As a youth worker in a church with a fairly large staff, including pastoral staff, I don’t have many responsibilities during the weeks surrounding Christmas. Once we wrap up our gatherings in mid-December I’m pretty much “off” from church duties until the new year. It is a two week stretch I look forward to for months: the promise of time with my family, time with my couch and time with copious amounts of butter, sugar and carbs consumes my hopes and dreams as the holidays draw closer.
However, as a youth worker, it did’t take long for me to realize my dreams of relaxation and time “off” are often just that– a dream. The seemingly endless stream of text and Facebook messages came flooding in from college-aged men and women back in town for break and wanting to grab some coffee and catch up.
Don’t get me wrong, I realize that this is a wonderful thing! But I’m quite the introvert and the tension between ministry down time and filling my calendar with people I love and rarely get to see face-to-face can totally stress me out. One of the ways I, and our high school ministry community, have chosen to deal with this tension is to provide ample opportunities for those who’ve graduated from our ministry to remain connected throughout the year and not just at holiday breaks.
Obviously, groups like Orange and Sticky Faith have done incredible work to shine light on the importance of transitioning well after high school and these are our humble attempts to both steal from their work and add our own ideas into the mix.
- It all begins when they are still seniors in high school. Our community holds a senior banquet each spring where the junior class (and their parents) makes dinner for the seniors and their families. Each student’s small group leader gets a chance to publicly bless and pray for the the seniors as we look at old pictures, laugh a lot, cry quite a bit and do our best to mark these years as an important and formative time in their lives. The past couple of years we have also had each senior fill out a card with a few simple prompts on it:
- Where will you be next year?
- Have you explored any faith communities there yet? Can we help?
- Do you want us to send you cookies next year?
Having these cards has been hugely beneficial as we both able to partner with them as they search for an active faith community in their new area as well as letting them know we intend to remain connected after they head off. If even just through cookies!
- Each and every week at our gathering times we have put a large board with a picture and address for every student who graduated from high school the past year. We stock the table with pre-paid postcards, pens, address stickers, etc. Any of our current students or leaders can just stop by, write a quick note and we’ll make sure it gets mailed the next day. It’s been a huge hit- both with our current and alumni kids.
- Our final week of gathering before Christmas has become a tradition of throwing a “Party with a Purpose” to raise money for Blood:Water Mission. We charge a nominal fee and our community gets to pose for pictures with Santa, eat tons of food, participate in a “Christmas Fashion Show,” throw a dance party and play “Pin the Baby Jesus on the Manger.” Recently we’ve decided that instead of this simply being a high school event it should be an anyone from our community that is in town for Christmas event. It’s been a wonderful chance to catch up with those who have gone off to college, the military, or even just been holed up in their parent’s basement the past few months. And the best part… we all gather at one time, cutting down on those separate coffee meetings!
- Twice a year we have small group leaders or current students offer to host cookie baking parties where they, well…. bake cookies! The cookies are then divvied up, packaged along with candy, dollar store trinkets and hand-written notes, and mailed off to current college-aged people.
- Lastly we are working with a longtime, and hugely talented, friend and ministry partner to host a weekend this spring designed specifically for young women who are trying to navigate their post-high school world. We will invite current high school juniors through current college-aged sophomores to come together and have honest discussions about what it’s like to try and carry their faith beyond our high school youth group community. They’ll have guest speakers, workshops, meals, and lots of time to simply sit and hear from each other. We have high hopes for this weekend and its impact on the young women in our community.
I’d love to hear in the comments what sorts of brilliant ideas you and your ministries have come up with to make sure your communities extend to those who have graduated. Mostly because we totally want to steal them!
Brad Hauge is the Director of Senior High Ministries at First Presbyterian Church of Spokane, Washington. He is also the writer behind our curriculum series, Viva.