Debby Kirk, SNEUCC Director of Youth and Young adult Ministry had a conversation with Christy Wynveen, the Minister for Faith Formation at Newman Congregational Church in Rumford, RI.
You started working for the church in April 2020, just as the Covid-19 lock-down began. What has that been like?
This has been a wild time in so many ways. I feel that I have actually been able to build relationships with the online worship and zoom coffee hours. I have a two year old daughter and it was often challenging to have a conversation and keep an eye on a toddler during in-person coffee hours. Our church announced on May 7 that we would continue with virtual worship through the remainder of 2020. In some ways, that has been freeing and we are finding that ministries are growing in new directions.
I understand that you recently moved to Rhode Island. What brought you to this church?
My husband and I first visited the church on Easter 2019, a few months after their daughter was born. We were church shopping and the rainbow doors, sealed it. I had not been part of a UCC church before, but I was seeking a place that was welcoming and Newman aligns with my values.
As they got to know one another, Newman Pastor Timoth Silva asked Christy if she had ever thought about working in ministry. That began a process whereby I applied for the opening of Director of Faith Formation. Newman Congregational is one of nine SNEUCC churches participating in the Thriving Congregations Initiative with Vibrant Faith Ministries.
Was this ‘call’ to ministry a surprise?
I grew up in Wisconsin in a town outside Milwaukee and attended a conservative congregation. I was very active in youth choir and always volunteered at church activities. When I was about 13, my congregation started small group gatherings for adults, I went to my pastor and asked if we could have one for youth. He set that up and it is still meeting. There were several missionaries from that area and I remember being in 8th grade and thinking that I wanted to do that kind of work in Africa or work with youth. It’s funny how those seeds that are planted when we are young, blossom later in our lives.
Tell me a little more about the recent book study for youth
Newman has a commitment to Racial Equity work and adults have been doing regular study groups. One of the parents commented that this has led to conversation at home and asked if we could offer a similar program for youth. Our first title was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and we did this as a summer reading project. It is a fairly long book, so I suggested that youth break it down and plan to read one chapter per day for a month. I also prepared a study guide, not for homework, but to have a place to jot down notes. It included some links to related materials in case any youth wanted to go a little deeper.
Conversation in the zoom gathering ranged from misuse of force, to music of Tupak Shakur, to code switching. While the story is fictional, it was timely in the wake of the protests that surfaced following the murder of George Floyd.
Sounds like it was a success. What is next?
Youth were eager to continue with other readings that focus on race equity and social justice. The next title is All the Stars Denied. Latina author Guadalupe Garcia McCall tackles the hidden history of the United States and its first mass deportation event that swept up hundreds of thousands of Mexican American citizens during the Great Depression.
Our zoom had three generations and the conversation was rich. As we explore more inter-generational events in the future, we may try joint discussion or parallel titles for youth and adults in order to foster more dialogue at home.
What is something you learned from the gathering?
This was a reminder that adults need to pay attention to what youth say. They have important ideas to share and they are still speaking!
Why is this discipleship education work important to you and to youth?
Youth need a place where they can safely explore their faith and spirituality in addition to process the harsh realities of the world. It is my hope that we can raise up youth who know who Jesus was and walk alongside them as they learn to extend radical hospitality and the love of Jesus to everyone they meet.
Debby Kirk is the Faith Formation Team Leader of the Southern New England Conference. She serves on the Faith Formation Team and oversees the Youth and Young Adult Ministries programs of the Conference. She organizes leadership development programs ...