Youth Ministry Overnight Essentials

Years of working in youth ministry have taught me many lessons. I’ll share one with you. Invest in the necessary items to make sleeping away from home easier. This will be slightly different for each person. Here are some essentials for me.
-A fun sleeping bag. This Star Wars Tauntaun sleeping bag is a gift from my husband. When I use it while not sleeping at home, it always makes me think of him while staying warm.
-A good air mattress. Do not try to rough it by sleeping on the floor at a lock-in or mission trip. Buy a good air mattress and use it.
-Comfy Pajamas. Sleep in comfort and style with sleepwear that makes you smile. Remember to pack something that will keep you warm or cool (depending on the season) and still be appropriate for spending the night with a crowd. I’m enjoying these pajamas which are a souvenir from last summer’s Alaska trip.
-Board Games. Nothing says quality time with youth like a board games. I recommend you keep your own personal board games at home and only bring what you want to be used.
-Secret Snack. Whatever you need to help you through the overnight and next morning, bring it. Coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.
What would you add to this list of must haves for a night way from home with a crowd of your favorite youth?

Youth Ministry Conference Questions

This weekend I and a good friend are leading a workshop entitled “Balancing Marriage, Ministry, and Bi-Vocational Life” at a Youth Leader Conference. This week I have been pondering these questions as they relate to my ministry. I encourage you to consider how you would answer them (change the wording if needed) as you seek to live our your faith in the world.

What do you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself?
What do you wish you had known?
What is the best part of youth ministry?
What is the hardest part of youth ministry?
Why in the world are you still doing this?
What wisdom have you gleaned from your difficult days and years of experience that you want to share with others?
What gets you through the hard days?
Any tips or tricks you’d like to share?
How does your work affect your family/spouse?
Talk about what it is like to do this work while single.
What boundaries/time management skills are essential for this work?
What surprised you most about youth ministry?
Blessings on your week as you spread joy and love in your corner of the world.
Photo taken on youth ministry beach retreat where I was very cold, and
some of my youth were probably swimming in the ocean!

A Baptism Sermon for My Nephew

A sermon preached February 22, 2015 at St. John UCC in Maeystown, Illinois on the occasion of my nephew’s baptism. Using the lectionary texts from the day of Genesis 9:8-17 and Mark 1:9-15.

 

 

 

 

Picture Jesus’ baptism. Can you see it? John and Jesus are in the Jordan River. And as Jesus is coming out of the water, “a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Who heard these words? Just Jesus? Jesus and John? Everyone who was there? While we may not know who heard these words when Jesus was baptized, we do get to hear them today and each time we hear this story. We hear of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven and the words of love and support that must have sustained Jesus when he reflected on them in his ministry.

 

What are the words of God that sustain you? Is it the story of the baptism of Jesus where we hear these words said to Jesus and realize they are a promise for us too? God says to each one of us-You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased. Do you find comfort in Noah’s story? Today we heard the end of the flood story where God promises to never again flood the whole earth. The covenant or promise made by God then was not just made to Noah but to all God’s children. God’s covenant with us as the flood story ends is a reminder that God will not turn away from humanity. God is a God of forgiveness and second and third and fourth chances. We cannot do anything to make God stop loving us. And God doesn’t give up on us. Ever. What good news this is.

 

The season of Lent is a perfect time to ponder what Scriptures sustain you, where you find hope, and what promises from God inspire you. Where do you find the good news? And how are you do you live out the good news in your daily life? In the Pope’s sermon from Friday, he implored people to live out the gospel this Lent by keeping our eyes open for people in need. Unfortunately, this season can become a time of only looking inward and focusing so much on our relationship with God that we fail to notice our brothers and sisters who are in need. This Lent we can make the choice to live God’s good news in ways that make it real in our hearts and in our lives.

 

One place we can all see good news in action is in the sacrament of baptism. I love baptisms. Not just on days like today when I have known the one being baptized since he was less than an hour old, I love all baptisms. Any time someone is baptized, it is a reminder of each of our baptisms and a reminder of the covenants or promises we have made to each other and God and the promises that God has made to each of us. Baptisms are never an isolating or isolated event they are always a communal event….always a community wide reminder of God’s love for the one being baptized and for all of us who are part of the baptized’s faith family. Baptisms are a reminder that each one of us is God’s beloved. You are beloved and with you God is pleased.

 

The New Century Hymnal has a hymn that is suggested for baptisms. It is a hymn that reminds us all that we are children of God. The first verse is-“Child of blessing, child of promise, baptized with the Spirit’s sign. With this water, God has sealed you unto love and grace divine.” We are all children of blessing and full of promise. Promises are what bind us together as a faith family and promises remind us of God’s neverending compassion for each of us. Just as at Jesus’ baptism where the Spirit came down and said that “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” When we participate in a baptism, we are reminded that God says these words to the one being baptized, as well as all of us here gathered. In the waters of baptism, we see the outward and visible sign of God’s invisible love and grace.

 

In the second verse of this hymn, we hear, “Child of love, our love’s expression, love’s creation, love indeed! Fresh from God, refresh our spirits, into joy and laughter lead.” One of the joys of a new baby is that he or she reminds us of God’s goodness. When you hold a baby and see the baby smile at you (even if it is just gas), you can’t help but smile too. New babies refresh our spirits and remind us that God’s promises extend beyond us to the next generation just as they existed before us to our ancestors in the faith.

 

Verse 3 of the hymn says, “Child of joy, our dearest treasure, God’s you are, from God you came. Back to God, we humbly give you, live as one who bears Christ’s name.” Baptisms remind us that this child is God’s child. This is where we come in as a community of faith; it is our job to remind each other that we belong to God; and that we are all called to live as those who bear Christ’s name. We gather together in our faith communities regularly to remember who we are and whose we are.

 

The fourth verse finishes the hymn by reminding us once again of who we are and what we are called to be. Reminder you are a ”Child of God, your loving Parent, learn to know whose child you are. Grow to laugh and sing and worship, trust and love God more than all.”

 

Our Gospel lesson for today ends with these words- “repent and believe the good news”. Our good news is simply this, God loves us and promises to keep loving us. In the waters of baptism, we see this love poured out. As we journey through Lent, may we live as those who are loved and may we share this love with anyone who needs a reminder of God’s love. Amen.

Who Knows Your Story?

This week I read this piece about what is lost when a loved one dies. And the sentence that stayed with me is “You lose some of your story.” I have lost many people who held part of my story. I miss them and the stories they took to the grave with them. In an effort to attempt to recall some of those stories I have been reading old emails. I invite you to travel back in time with me to March 2008 when two best friends shared this email exchange. Thank you for sharing part of my story and allowing me to share part of yours.

Susannah DeBenedetto wrote:
Of course I do.  Do I think I can go, probably not. Let me just bask in how awesome that would be. In fact it would probably even be legend—-wait for it—dary! Can you get a job at the ranch and sneak me in next year?
Kristi Foster wrote:
Going to a 12 day session at the ranch. $1200
Plane fare. . .$400?
Meeting one of the Indigo Girls with Suz…priceless
It would be awesome to go and awesome if I could get a job there.  Let me work on that!
:)K
Susannah DeBenedetto wrote:
Can you imagine meeting one of the IG? Seriously, that would be amazing and I’m sure the workshop would be phenomenal.  Wow.  I’m sure I can totally talk the session into this!  (ha ha ha!)
s
Kristi Foster wrote:
Personally, I’m hoping to be in between jobs and in possession of a winning lottery ticket. . . .which, by the way, would pay for y’all to have a new hot tub.  And we could probably book the IG for a private concert (I’m thinking hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lottery ticket).
🙂 K
Susannah DeBenedetto wrote:
 If you are going to win the lottery, win big! 100,000 dollars, what is the point?  Go for 350 million instead.  Of course you will share it with needy individuals, so the money won’t be wasted!
Please God, hear the prayer of our sister, Kristi.
Help her to win the lottery so she can buy me a hot tub, book a private concert with the IG (which of course I would be invited to) and help your poor children around the world.  Thank you, God, for granting this wish, I mean prayer.  Amen.!
Kristi Foster wrote:
I meant hundreds of millions.  I agree, think big or go home!
Susannah DeBenedetto wrote:
I like the way you (and I) think!  Good to know we can still share a brain. What are you still doing at work?
s

A Meal and Memories

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I was  away from home and decided to have lunch at a chain restaurant that I enjoy and do not have easy access to when I am at home. As I sat to eat the familiar flavors, I was not prepared for the many memories that accompanied this meal. Although I had never visited this location of this restaurant chain before the memories made it feel like I was a frequent guest here. It was at another of these restaurants where I was introduced to a friend’s friend who would go on to become her spouse. This restaurant chain hosted us many times after church as my husband and I had a few minutes of conversation before I went back to work and he went home to enjoy the rest of his weekend. This was where we would often eat with a dear friend who now lives too many hours away.

In addition to my delicious meal, I was met by loved ones who have shared similar tables with me. I was thankful for the memories many of which I had not remembered in some time.

This has me wondering where you encounter unexpected memories? Where are you surprised by thoughts of those you love who are gone or far away? And how do you react to those moments?

For me, it was a privilege to dine with family and friends who are family even if everyone else at the restaurant sawing me dining alone. I welcomed the memories and when I was done eating sent them messages to know I love them and how they are well!

It makes sense that Jesus said when you do this remember me. When we gather around tables, we remember. When we gather around the table in our places of worship, we remember Jesus. So wherever you find yourself eating, open yourself to the memories.

Surprising God, Thank you for coming to us in simple meals with chicken and rice and chopsticks. Thank you for meals shared with those we love and thank you for memories! Continue to surprise and remind of happy times. Each time we gather around a table, help us to remember. Amen.

What Hats Do You Wear?

Each month many faith communities publish a newsletter. All the important dates and details about what is happening will be shared in those pages. Plus, the church staff is asked to write a short article each month. This is what I wrote for St. Giles Presbyterian Church in March 2011. As I reread it recently, I liked the idea of considering what hats we wear. I encourage you to think about all the hats you wear during the week and how many different roles you have in your daily life.

 

This month I promised to tell you what a DCE or pastor does the rest of the week.  You know about much of the Sunday stuff because that is when you see us.  If I asked you to describe what you do or how you spend your week, it may take you awhile to name a portion of what occupies your work week or weekday hours.  I’ll spare you a long list and instead share some hats I wear that explain how this DCE fills her work week.

Confidant-No matter your age, sometimes you just need someone to listen.

Teacher-I love leading Bible studies, book discussions, and teaching the children and youth.  Sharing faith and faith stories is a fun hat to wear.  

Student-I will always see myself as someone who can learn more and more.  Through conferences, books and magazines, and conversations with colleagues, I am constantly reminded how much there is to learn.

Motivator-Our faith journeys aren’t easy roads.  We need people to journey with us and motivate us to keep going when it is difficult.  

Planner-Lots of events, activities, and things happen here at St. Giles.  For each hour of something you see, hours of planning, preparation, emails etc. go into it.  Plus, planning lists, coordination with ministry teams, and putting it all on the church calendar.  

Supporter-Where can I help someone with what he or she is doing or suggest someone else who wants to help?  Part of my role as supporter is helping people see where the needs of the church work with their gifts and then supporting them as they share their gifts!

Cheerleader-Woohoo children, youth, and adults!  Way to go on sharing God’s love in so many ways.   

I hope this glance at the hat rack of this DCE answers the what does a DCE do all week question!

 

A Day of Giving Thanks

A Day of Giving Thanks
Recently I was asked to reflect on a ministry in which I participated while working at a previous church. As I thought about what to say, I realized how thankful I was for my time spent with the children and all the adults who taught them. This time of reflection encouraged me to spend some time creating a gratitude list. Until I starting writing my list, I didn’t realize how much I needed this practice. So I invite you to take a few quiet moments and write a gratitude list. In the midst of all that is going on in my life and the world, it was helpful to pause and give thanks.
Dear God,
You are the giver of all good gifts. When I stop and consider all I have to be thankful for, I am amazed. Here is my gratitude list for today-
visits from loved ones
smiles
the churches where I was called to serve
delicious food
people who lend a helping hand
courage to speak out for what is right
when children giggle
planning and taking vacations
phone calls from people who know me
hospice patients and families
work colleagues
my husband
my whole family
opportunities to give back
prophets who speak the truth we need to hear
a good cup of tea and time to enjoy it.
Thank you, God, for all this and so much more. Encourage me to stop and take the time to be thankful often. Amen.

My Book of Mean People Journal

My Book of Mean People Journal
Toni and Slade Morrison
Pictures by Pascal Lemaitre
This book was a gift many years ago from a dear friend. She knew I was going through a rough patch and bought this book to cheer me up. It is a place to share your feelings using words and pictures when you are struggling with mean people. I will admit that I have not yet written in the book. I pull it out regularly and imagine what I would write and draw when people are mean.
This journal gives you space to write about actions of mean people, times you are mean, what you would say to mean people, and what you wish mean people would stop doing.
This is a perfect gift for anyone who is having a tough time and needs a safe place to share their feelings. I like it much better than the book by the same name because the journal acknowledges that we can be mean too!

Benediction-Psalm 133:1

Benediction-Psalm 133:1

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
And what does this look like in today’s world? We must ask for forgiveness for what we have done wrong and seek justice for all! We must listen to the stories of our kindred and seek justice for all! We must speak out against violence to any of our kindred and seek justice for all! We must work toward a day when all have enough food, equal opportunities, safety and security. And we look forward to the day we can say-How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

 

Words in italics are Psalm 133:1 from the New Revised Standard Version.

The Sound of Silence

The Sound of Silence

 

Recently, I was sick. Sore throat, fever, headache, coughing. It was terrible. I had no energy. I was not hungry. And possibly the worst part,  I could not talk for three days. No talking. No whispering. I communicated with my husband using hand gestures and texting. As I was not talking, I was thinking. Here are some things I learned-

I would not enjoy a week-long silent retreat!

I enjoy the sound of my own voice.

I enjoy communicating with others.

 

“But God definitely listened. God heard the sound of my prayer.” –Psalm 66:19

 

God, you hear my prayers whether I say them out loud or hold them in my heart. You know me when I feel well and when I feel terrible. And through all my days, you love me and I am thankful for your love. I pray for all those who are feeling unwell today. Ease their pain. Grant them rest. Blanket them with your love. In your healing and holy name, we pray. Amen.