Thank you, God, for cheeseRock-a-Thon is an annual tradition in our Church where our middle school youth group (Junior Pilgrim Fellowship, known as JPF) spends 24 hours in rocking chairs, learning and bonding while fundraising for a cause that they select. It’s an exhausting 24 hours but the youth love it, and so it has continued for over 30 years. This year has been different as you well know...but sometimes different is just different and not as bad as we anticipated.
Anyone who works with middle schoolers knows those incredible God-moments when things click for them. Those moments when they really begin to listen to their peers, connect through honest conversation, and support each other. They can be few and far between over Zoom, but during our 12-hour Rock-a-Thon this year, they were constant. I wish I could share a secret recipe for how this happened, but there isn’t one. The next best thing is sharing what we did over our day with these 16 youth and 4 advisers to be present and engaged.
We started our day establishing our expectations of each other in a collaborative manner. We had a few presenters and the expectation was that cameras would be on while the presentations were happening, but other than that youth were free to do what was right for them. Every youth chose to leave their videos on for the entire time. I don’t know if it was because they each had the agency to do what they needed or if it was because they all really wanted mask-less, face-to-face interaction, but it was such a blessing to see everyone the entire time.
After setting up our expectations, we began playing True Facts. This is a game where everyone privately messages the meeting host a secret fact about themselves. The host shares them one by one and the group guesses whose it was. In my planning, I thought this game would go for maybe an hour, but I have never been happier to be so wrong. The youth loved learning about each other and sharing stories about their lives to the point where it continued for the entire 12 hours. While we chatted and guessed, we did things like make rocking chairs out of clothespins, hear from members of our Church, learn more about our chosen fundraising beneficiary (the Emma Davis Medical Equipment Ministry), had a show and tell, and so much more. We made dinner together (we provided pizza dough, sauce, and cheese) and learned how to do random things from our peers. Throughout the entire time, we continued to play True Facts and open up about our life experiences with each other.
Reflecting about it after the fact, I have realized a few things.
● For a day, our youth truly let themselves forget about Covid and all they’ve missed about this past year. We talked about our favorite tv shows growing up, filled boxes with memories of the day, shared wild substitute teacher stories, and wrote a prayer about cheese. When our time was up, the youth were sad it was over even though we had just spent 11am-11pm on Zoom together. They need this escape.
● The youth in our Church (and I presume in the entire conference) need connection and they need a place to be themselves - openly and honestly. They need to know their Church is there to support them and engage them.
● One of their favorite parts of the day was when we wrote a prayer about cheese. Yes, cheese. While this is goofy and there are absolutely more serious topics to pray on, it’s important to remind them that God created everything, including our sense of humor. We need to have fun.
May God keep reminding us to share our joy with each other as we genuinely and honestly connect - Amen
Kelsey DeCarlo serves as the Minister of Faith Formation for First United Church of Christ, Milford. She loves working with the children and youth of the Church and resides with her family in Clinton.