Immersion also reminds us of the story of baptism. Jesus rose up out of the Jordan with a sense of belonging and clarity. The water ritual affirmed his connection to God and had a transformative effect as he began his ministry.
As Covid has eased, youth ministry programs in many of our congregations have returned to a different kind of immersion experience: service learning. Our SNEUCC congregations have sent out groups on local, national, and international excursions to serve neighbors and explore culture. Youth have tended the least of these through feeding, visiting, and building projects. These programs have powerful impact on young people, shaping their identity as followers of Jesus.
We know that travel, even to another neighborhood in our own state, helps open our eyes to the needs of others. Service work makes us set aside familiar routines and requires our full engagement. It often involves simple communal living, and always provides us with a change of perspective. The disruption of the regular patterns may take us out of our comfort zones, but I believe that God uses this opportunity to break in and greet us in new ways.
Service experiences are a way to embody faith, to go beyond abstract learning, and practice compassion in tangible and personal ways. Service helps youth to learn empathy and gratitude, and more. By swimming in someone else’s pond, youth also begin to examine their own privileges, biases, and blessings. Service work can take youth to new depths where they confront justice issues, build their own theology, and learn about advocacy.
Taking time to reflect on the immersion experience is a key tool for spiritual growth. Leaders can help anchor the event so that a disorienting experience becomes a milestone in faith development. A simple framework is to pause and ask WHAT? (What did you hear, see, or do?) SO WHAT? (Why does this matter to you, to the community, and to God?) NOW WHAT? (How does this change you, how will you tell the story, and what next steps do you take to continue the work?)
This summer the UCC released an excellent (Free!) Service Project Curriculum: Understanding our Mission. This resource has activities that can be used to heighten spiritual awareness before during and after the experience. Another option comes from the Center for Youth Ministry Training. CYMT suggests the WOW method to help youth evaluate the grappling with the difference between culture and God’s vision.
As you emerge from the depths of your immersion experience this summer, many of you host special worship services or events where youth have the opportunity to tell the congregation about the service trips. In addition, please encourage your youth to share the impact more widely through the SNEUCC Young Voices Project. We welcome youth submit pieces for publication in our Discipleship Matters newsletter.
Bless you who baptize youth; plunging them into life-changing experiences and showering them with love!
FYI: Your SNEUCC Faith Formation team has a curated list of resources for Service Learning and Mission Trips. Add your recommendation and fill out this brief survey to suggest a quality site or program that other groups might use.
Looking ahead for an immersion opportunity for summer 2023? United Church of Christ General Synod on June 30-July 4 is a chance to be immersed in the work, witness and worship of the wider church! Youth @ Synod for teens age 13-18 will focus on those experiencing homelessness in Indianapolis area. To nominate a teen for Youth @ Synod Fill out this form or contact Debby Kirk. Stay tuned for details!
Image by Stephanie Albert from Pixabay
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 ...