This past weekend our youth group held it first ever “Confirmission Retreat.” It was a retreat to welcome our confirmands into the youth group, mixed with a mini-local mission trip.
Prior to the weekend that involved “kidnapping” the unsuspecting 6th graders, I had several conversations with parents about their particular child’s anxieties about being in our youth group, particular personality traits to beware of and other disclaimers as to why their child might not be quite as ready as the others. Unbeknown to those parents, there were other parents having the same conversations with me about their own children. Regardless, I assured each parent that their child would be well cared for.
When it came time for the kidnapping on Friday, I told our youth group that the point of this entire weekend was to make the 6th graders feel like a part of our “family.” I knew the group would embrace the motivation, but I had no idea how well.
One by one, as we stopped at each house with our caravan of youth, with silly string flying everywhere and pots and pans being pounded together loudly, the smiles told the story. After dropping the youth off in front of each house, I didn’t have time to park the church bus and head toward to the front door before the youth group was already emerging from the house with a new friend in tow, grinning from ear to ear, one even being carried out on someone’s shoulders as if he had just hit the game-winning home run in the World Series.
Friday evening was spent at a family-fun center with putt-putt, bumper boats and arcade games. On Saturday morning, everyone woke up, donned their work clothes, and we headed out to work with Amigo’s Days, a missions initiative of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. Our particular project was in Oak Cliff, painting the house, garage, shed and neighboring wall of an elderly gentleman. Working side by side with people of all ages from four different churches, this was yet another intentional opportunity for intergenerational ministry, something that has become an emphasis of our youth ministry.
Following a full day of work, we went to Tyler Street United Methodist Church and stayed at their facility for missions, “C2K” (Connect to the Kingdom). The hospitality we received from their coordinator, Jamie, and from the entire TSUMC was incredible. Never before have I been handed a key ring with 50 keys on it and told, “Feel free to explore! If a door is locked, you’ll find a key for it on this ring. Please make yourself at home in our entire church!”
That evening we worshipped together in TSUMC’s chapel. What was particularly special about Saturday evening’s worship was the opportunity for our youth group to teach several of our “worship traditions” to the incoming 6th graders. These included such things as hand washing and communion, several a cappella songs that are special to our group, the familiar way we use small groups, our arms-crossed, hand-holding circle of “joys and concerns,” and of course, the benediction that ends with “…and give y’all peace!”
Sunday morning we woke up, worshiped with the good folks of TSUMC and then headed out to play Whirlyball. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, it’s a mix between basketball and lacrosse and takes place in bumper cars.
The greatest moment occurred when we returned to the church to everyone’s parents waiting for them in the parking lot. As we piled out of the church vans, hugs began to be exchanged. The best part, though, was that before the hugs were being given to the waiting parents, they were being given from youth to youth, with our brand new confirmands in the middle.
The looks of relief and joy on the faces of the parents were priceless, as they realized that their child had been successfully welcomed and accepted into our youth “family.”
After telling these stories to our church staff at yesterday’s staff meeting, one person raised the question, “Why can’t adults do that?” And my answer is, “Good question. There is no reason we can’t!“
Can you imagine if our churches welcomed the “stranger” with as much enthusiasm as our youth group welcomed these confirmands? What if the moment someone stepped foot onto our church campus we gave them the feeling of being hoisted onto someone’s shoulders as if they were a hero? They wouldn’t be able help but feel like a part of our family! And then, what if we didn’t stop there, but began a process of assimilation in which we taught them the traditions and norms that help to define who we are as a community?
We should be doing everything we can to create an atmosphere of inclusion and unconditional love. It shouldn’t matter if someone is anxious, or has a quirky personality trait or is different from us. I know not everyone can experience a Confirmission Retreat like we did this past weekend, but we need to be pulling out all the stops when it comes to welcoming people into our church families!