Oh, wow, where to start? How does one encapsulate six years of ministry with a thoughtful and caring community? First, let me thank the many youth, parents, and parishioners of St. John’s for being a singularly great place to work.
As I get ready for my last Sunday, I want to thank the many people who made ministry here possible. I want to thank my colleagues, who have all been outstanding over the years. Ministry is all about a team; good ones share ideas and figure out how to bring them to fruition. I’ve been lucky to work with remarkable creative people Chris, Heather, Ginger, Virginia, Emily, and Sandra. At our pre-Covid best, we would lobby questions and comments from our offices, and many would chime in with helpful insight. Virginia might even send a flying monkey down the hallway in emphasis of a particular point. Thank you all!
This past week, a parent called me up. They expressed their lament that I was leaving, and I responded by saying that it had been a real treat to work with them and their family. They laughed and said, you can’t mean us because such and such happened. No, I said, I mean it. Why can’t youth groups be that place where we accept people as they are? Even when they make mistakes. If we can’t be there when difficult things happen, when can we? Why can’t youth groups be that place where we get to be who we are, make mistakes, and people still love us? All of us have moments, and we need communities that will be with us through the ups and the downs.
I think at some point; all youth are going to differentiate or have a moment. That’s where a community comes in. Having a community during hard times as the net of care can be a balm. Especially down the road, where some other family goes through something similar. Church and youth group isn’t about perfection. Compassion and empathy can come from processing the downs. We want our youth to know that they are vitally essential expressions of God’s love. Youth indeed are unique souls who have something remarkable to give to the world. I love that.
Do I understand youth all the time? Certainly not. That’s why it so important to have a variety of adult mentors and teachers. It takes a village. St. John’s is one. I love that so many adults in the congregation have a vision for a successful youth program. That means they’ve been part of something that mattered, and that changed them. They want to support that. I’ve heard stories of what it means to work with acolytes. I have learned several times about the fantastic trips across the US on interminable van rides with Bart. I heard fond memories of a great youth program that gave some a place to go when times were tough at home. All of these are part of an incredible ecosystem that believes and shows up for youth ministry.
There are cornerstones in each ministry— jazz musicians who take the song to the next level with their instrument of choice. I want to say a special thanks to Jon Myers and his wife, Bonnie. Jon is a beloved figure who cares deeply for each of the youth. No matter what anyone says, you can’t do ministry in a vacuum. Jon is the patient saint who would help on Sunday mornings, talks with me during the week, and bring donuts each Sunday! Jon, you are a pillar of the youth program, and they are so lucky to have you. Helping Jon, Bonnie has been my source of information regarding the professional help available in Marin and beyond. I can’t say enough about her advice, her contacts, and her endless supply of articles. I truly appreciate them both, as they have truly helped me better care for so many youths.
My response to that parent earlier is that maybe youth group and hopefully church, in general, can be that place where we model loving people when things aren’t going right, where we support youth during the tough times and even those emergencies. No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes, and I have seen so many youths transcend their situations. That has been my goal. Be that lighthouse in the storm for families. Yes, such and such happened, but I think all of our youth can be outstanding. I’m in the faith business; that’s my job. I have hope that they’ll keep growing and maybe be that person who later on is there to support others who have gone through tough times.
Finally, I want to say thank you to the youth. Each of you is a gifted individual with so many unique things to offer the world. We need your voices, ideas, questioning, sass, and humor if we are the people that God wants us to be. Thank you to the many that did social outreach at various places. Thank you to the ones that got up early on Sunday morning for classes or a trip to SF to work at a soup kitchen. Thank you to those who came to youth group, fun outings, and those that ventured across the state and country to go on trips. Thank you to those who agreed to mentor others, who gave compliments to other youth on their clothes, who met with first years during lunch, and those that spoke honestly about their experiences. Thank you for trusting us and sharing that you can make it through complex stuff. Don’t stop being you and keep talking, shouting, drawing, singing, and dancing. I’ll end with this quote from John Lewis, dedicated to all you youth out there, please “get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” — John Lewis speaking atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020
Thank you, St. John’s; you truly helped quench my soul in more ways than one.