I was hoping to start out Wednesday evening faith formation and worship between 6 and 8 pm with about a dozen sixth through twelfth graders. The theory was: let's build this program slowly.
Instead, 27 kids showed up, grades 3 and up, for the opening Wednesday, and 23 kids the following Wednesday! 30 different kids total participated in GIFT the first two Wednesdays. 7 different adults have helped in the classroom and with sandwich preparation so far. I remember being in middle school. I was always hungry. In partnership with a campus ministry (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) and the UW-Oshkosh, the plan is to pair up each kid with a college student for the duration of the Fall semester, and for them to attend confirmation class and worship together at least twice, complete two service projects together, and two movie and discussion nights together.
The majority of the kids who come on Wednesdays attend the 9:30 am or 2 pm Sunday services. But some of the kids I literally pick up off the street. I have done street ministry on three continents spanning three decades; I mean no harm by it. You have to be ready to walk straight into people's lives, make sustained eye contact, ask heart-to-heart questions, and watch what happens next.
In point of fact, it is kids inviting kids. "Hey, can so-and-so come?" "You mean that kid over there?"
I stop the van again, until it is full, walk over, and explain to the kid what faith formation and worship are about, which has to sound rather boring. Then again, (1) a friend they know is going, and (2) they are blown away by an adult walking up to them, not yelling in the least, and showing a genuine interest in them.
I got yelled at the first Wednesday by a self-appointed neighborhood monitor. "What are you doing, just picking up kids in the neighborhood?" I commended her for watching out for the neighborhood kids, and introduced myself. Before allowing a kid to come, I spend time with Mom or Grandma or another caregiver, and make sure they are okay with it.
I have been discipling some of the kids for a year or two. I am blown away with their increasing maturity. Part of the reason is that when they need something I try to be responsive. They are looking for an adult listening ear who is not a parent, and they don't even know it, They are looking for someone who can ask them a searching question. Draw a kid out, invite them to walk on water. Invite them to faith and watch what happens. It is beautiful to behold.
I enjoy working with "terrible teenagers. It is even more the case that I think and feel at the level of a 4th grader. Kids figure these things out, which may explain why there are plenty of 4th and 5th graders who ask to be part of Confirmation. It is hard to turn them down.
We have the makings of a choir of kids! I asked one of the boys if he liked to sing (his Mom is quite the singer). "I like to dance," he replied with a broad smile.
This should be interesting. :)
John Hobbins, Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries
400 N Sawyer St, Oshkosh, WI 54902