Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Say it ain't so Joe....

It is safe to say UDLC is pretty Penn State Strong. If you didn't go to PSU, your brother, wife, child, or family member went. If they didn't go, you just grew up on PSU football. It was just the thing to do. Each August the small minority of other Big 10 school supporters would see UDLC covered in Blue and White and we would bring out the Michigan or OSU rivalries and it would always end up with a good hearted ribbing depending on who had a perceived stronger Defense or who the QB was, but one thing was true everyone recognized JOE PA and what his presence at PSU did for the team and fans.

There has been some stuff that has happened recently, but this post is not about that. This is about the MEASURE OF A MAN. The heart of a man who did not live for his Football team, but for the individuals who made up the teams he coached. It was not for the position coaches working for him, but the men who coached players in different positions. Most of all Joe and his wife Sue wanted to make better people in the world, not just better players.

Joe and Sue gave a lot of money to PSU, this is true. However, they also gave a ton of time and love to the students, professors, and staff. Sue works at the Spirituality Center, making sure there was a place for all faiths to learn and grow and worship. The Library was in large part possible because of them and looks all around the campus and there are things made possible by the Paterno family. However, these "things are replaced", what is not replaced is the young people who go out into the world and then touch the lives of others.

I would go on and on about the Paterno's because I have an overabundance of respect for them both. I respect what they gave to PSU and the love they had for higher education. The reason of the post is not about that, but in setting an example of living a life for others and our ability to touch others in ways we will never see.

In church work and working with young people, it is often understood that you will not always see the results of those long talks, weeks of service, or Sunday school or Confirmation lessons immediately. That being said, there are amazing youth who you see have a heart for Jesus and they come shining through to you and you know that God's will is coming to you through them. However, it is not many High School youth who can balance their faith, social pressures, and the stress of being a teenager (I do thing UDLC has a large number of them though).

Youth worker will tell you it is stressful. It is long hours of worrying about events, permission forms, fund raising, practice for band or youth Sunday or choir etc... It takes a lot of time in your life. It takes a lot of energy and can be emotionally draining and there are times you pray "WHAT IS THE DEAL GOD? WHAT DO YOU NEED ME TO BE DOING HERE?

Sometime after that prayer we have an answer. It may not always be the answer we wanted, but it is there. It could be you were at the right place or online at the right time preparing something and a teen that needed to talk finds you. It may be that someone stops you and tells you how much the youth ministry means to them and the things they see in the "Youth Ministry" really bring an element that was missing at church. Sometimes it is that you need to make a drastic change for the good of the program, but we have to remember...WE ASKED FOR AN ANSWER!

I can only speak presently of my experiences. I will ask other people to blog about their own in the coming days and weeks, but I have a few examples to share and in turn maybe you can share with others.

I am 7 years, 5 months and 24 days (390 weeks for those calculating it at home which is also 3,935,520 minutes) into my ministry at UDLC and in that time I have had said to me "The things you do for the Youth in this church is amazing" to which I answer "It is much easier when you have a great starting point." This humility can only go so far, so I accept the compliment and then share with the youth themselves.

1 Bill is an older member of UDLC. He has had his own personal health problems in the past few years, but every Sunday I see him smiles and a laugh to be shared. His joy is one of our youth particularly. Now, she is a shining example and honestly a real example for the youth, but this young lady is what Bill shares with others. He has shared with her also, but given the things these two have both dealt with in the past two years, I believe God has put them together so they can support each other. Bill sees not only her, but the influence and the strength she offers younger youth. He is a strong supporter of our program and when he has the chance he tells the youth how amazing they are. Bill doesn't realize it, but he has also set an example to other adults who now realize they can recognize the teens and children of the church and tell them when they see their talent. They also see there is a difference between real compliments and support and empty accolades.

2. Chris is a parent of three. He has only been a member of our church for 2 years, but in that time he has gone from new member to one of the leads on our property committee and teams up with another guy Bob to create a Mr. Fix It/Mr. Build It team to rival the "Extreme Home Makeover team". However Chris went on our Summer Mission building trip for the first time last year and his time with the youth had inspired him. He saw the joy and spark the youth have when building and working to make a physical difference for these people and he said, why can't we do this at home? Then rather than letting someone else answer, Chris answered it himself. Chris along with two other ASP vets Bob and Todd have come together to make a local home repair ministry for our community. He designed it not for the handy men and women of the congregation, but for youth and adults. To let us go out and make a difference. Chris does not know it yet, but even if this ministry does not make it 10 years, his impact on future men and women who will do similar work starting here is dramatic.

3. "Marie" Changing the name to protect the innocent. Marie spent years with youth. She loves youth and while they have blown by her in technology and global awareness at times, she loves them. She supports them and me. She takes time to be with them and her life has become beyond stressed as of late, but her focus is still being involved. Marie brought the idea of a "30 Hour Famine" back to UDLC. She wants us to look to recruit teens and friends (50 in totals) to raise $5,000 at minimum for the famine in the Horn of Africa. Even with everything on her plate she wants to get the youth involved and educated on this that she is planning to not just be at the event and support it, but help plan and lead it. Marie is also my biggest cheerleader and critic. I enjoy this, but her constant desire to be more is not lack of contentment (honestly, i felt like nothing was ever enough), but it was the desire for us all to be more, to push ourselves to be more. Striving to challenge our youth to aim higher, bigger and not be afraid to fall short and learn lessons from these experiences.

These are just my few examples, but from a media spotlight to a flashlight on my church, people make a difference. Not in being on TV or giving money, but by being genuine and giving of themselves.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

You know how....

How many times do conversations start with an opener like this?

Sometimes when presented with these questions, I like to wait till the information comes out from the person asking and after a few other follow up questions it is usually something people feel awkward just asking.

You know how people will sometimes say things to you that your not sure how to take?
You know how sometimes you can't say what you really want?
You know how the things you want to say, are seen as inappropriate, even though your being honest?

These questions are often asked and hardly ever asked by someone who never wants an honest answer, because they have already made up their mind.

So what is your "You know how..."?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Long Weeks

Sometimes it seems like a week will never end. Going to classes, working around 30 hours, being in and out of ER's with your roommates, and trying to maintain a relationship with your roommates, friends, and boyfriend, all while attempting to have some time for yourself can be exhausting. So exhausting that it's Monday and you realize you just spent an entire week moving so non-stop that you didn't notice a full week had gone by. Sitting behind a cash register, nursing your first of several cups of coffee, you relish the moment of calm and try to find some moments that God was present in the craziness of the past 7 days. You realize that the trips to the hospital all ended with everyone's loved ones returning home. You realize that even a simple, insignificant gesture can change the way someone thinks. You realize that while emotionally you have been struggling, physically you are doing okay, and even the psychological warfare you managed to wage against yourself is nothing compared to that of those you've known in the past. You realize that no matter how long you go without talking to loved ones, no matter how hurt any of them might be, they will always be there for you, and you for them, because they are the people you need to have in your life- and He knows that. You have all these revelations, thinking back on the "week from hell" you've just endured when the rest of campus was out partying, and you write the word 'blog' on your palm, hoping you will remember to write before it washes off.
Then, before you know it, your shift ends. You leave the building, intending to check out the latest sale merchandise on campus, and you run into someone you haven't seen much of this year. He looks as beat-down as you do. He asks, but no you haven't heard about this weekend. You think you may have read something vague, but you were wrapped up in your own life. Now you realize what you've missed. She's gone. Someone so loved by so many, now gone forever. Suddenly all of your problems vanish, just for a moment, while you try to figure out what to do next. It won't hit you until hours later, sitting at your desk. Even as you move on to all the things that need to be done before you go to sleep tonight, her beautiful face will be in your mind, laughing, singing, walking down the hallway, surviving until she just couldn't hold on anymore. And now and then other faces will show up as well. Is this how He wants to remind you to pay more attention to those you care about? Slow down and breathe once in a while? Perhaps. More likely, it was just about the time He needed his next angel, and you couldn't ask for many better ones than her. Through all her pain and suffering, whether she intended to or not, she was a light for her community and will not be forgotten.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Youth Ministry 2011 Flashback

So every year I am asked to write an annual report for the 50+ page Annual Report. While I appreciate that people care, I always wonder who actually reads it. So this year, I spiced it up a bit and made it more interesting to read.

Church, in January 2012, I was in the middle of my 7th year as youth director at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church. Now, UDLC had been through some pretty big changes in 2011. The first was a building expansion program that allowed for more meeting spaces and a way for members to gather after worship and enjoy each others company. The second was the fact that Pastor Douglass retired.

These both are important, but the reason I tell you about them is because YOUTH were big parts of both of these things. In, 2011 during the winter a few teenagers got together with Andrew McMaster and made some UDLC History when they created a song that would be brought out again at Pastor Douglass’s retirement celebration.

In 2011, there were the annual trips; SEPA Sr. High Youth Gathering, Appalachia Service Project, Laser Tag, and even a rescheduled camping trip for the Tweens. There were also new things the youth brought to the congregation. A youth band, two Christmas musical celebrations (thanks to Music and Christian Ed), increased involvement in Chosen 300, and all of the ministries at UDLC. However, the most exciting thing is a visible presence on Sunday’s and at church events. The youth have gone from the children of the congregations members to “members” involved in all areas. Cheryl Rozinski is a High School Sr. who is finishing a term on council. Melanie Fry, Kendall Couch, and Marissa Irizarry have become the go to youth for child care for Couple Relationship Club and Financial Peace University. You will find a few youth serving as assistant ministers, running power point of videos during worship, crucifers, and acolytes. We even have youth preachers on Youth Sunday and you can find many teens in Sunday school each week. I know this is nothing surprising, until I report they are not students, but rather teachers for younger students.

Youth have also worked to be some of UDLC’s best and most active friends on Facebook. In 2011, UDLC has taken on Social Media more intentionally and the influx of web presence has allowed teens to identify with UDLC publicly and that in itself is a big shift. Teens post photos of events, will talk to each other, make plans to meet at Church Sunday mornings, and check in on each other when someone was missing that week. What more can you want from a Youth Ministry than a community of young people being involved in a church, identifying with the church community, and inviting others to come? Maybe as adults we should take a lesson or two from them?

In past years I had told you about members coming to me and telling me wonderful things about our youth. You may also remember for the past few years I have asked people to tell the youth and you know what? People have started to tell the youth directly. Now I am not saying this alone has increased interest and involvement of our teens, but I am sure it has helped. They feel validated and welcome to many places they had not before. Can I, youth director, take credit? Not really, but one of my goals was to take youth from “EVENTS” for teens, to an infusion of the youth in the church ministries at large and this is what we see happening now.

In 2012, we will have an Appalachia trip, we will go to ELCA Senior High Youth Gathering (with 30,000+ other youth), our lock-ins, but an exciting new event will be 30 hour hunger awareness fundraiser in March. This will be in cooperation with global mission to raise money and awareness for hunger world wide.

One other new part of the youth ministry is a new program dreamed up by and chaired by Chris Couch. This program “Helping Hands of UDLC” would be an extension of youth ministry and supported by volunteers from the church. Adult team members will evaluate small jobs and teams of youth and adults (similar to ASP) will work on local projects one Saturday per month. Funding for projects would be raised by free will donations from those benefiting from the acts of service and other funds raised by this ministry.

This new program is not only a way for UDLC to give back to the community more locally, but it is will be a way to help our member begin a more direct intergenerational program and take the skills youth are learning on the summer mission trip and improve them, develop new ones, and learn some life skills that will benefit them and the communities they will live in as they grow.

With so much happening this year, it is hard to imagine what 2013 will bring, but I am sure there will be plenty of to report on then as more youth talents are discovered and nourished.

Respectfully Submitted,

Raymond Hopkins

Director of Youth Ministry