HARTLAND (04/29/2016) -- Pastor Janine Baryza-Ly of First Church in Hartland, Congregational and Jana Russo-Priestley, Director of Faith Formation for First Church of Christ in Hartford had a chance encounter at the UCC General Synod last summer. As they browsed the Our Whole Lives display at the Cleveland Convention Center and engaged in casual conversation, they parted with the promise to reconnect in the fall.
That contact at Synod led to a follow-up meeting between the two where a plan to have a youth group exchange was hatched. The first gathering was realized on April 17 when the two youth groups came together for worship, fellowship, and adventure in Hartland. Sister UCC congregations from two very different environments came together to share worship styles.
The day began as youth enjoyed the contemporary music and blended worship in the Hartland Church. After a lovely, hearty lunch everyone gathered to learn about "letter boxing," an intriguing treasure-hunt style outdoor activity. The activity included following clues of Biblical references that led the group to search and find small boxes hidden within the woods at a local hiking trail. The hike deep into the woods of Hartland gave the youth time to find ways to mutually rely on each other, chat, and just be silly. The inspiration of being in God's backyard, reflection on His love and light, made it become a day that was meant to be.
It didn't take long for the urban and rural youth to make new bonds and build trust. "The youth all entered the experience with open hearts and open minds and came together in a remarkable way," said Pastor Janine. "The fellowship time together was a true blessing and a fruitful experience, something youth would like to repeat every month."
"We are already planning the next joint gathering at First Church of Christ in Hartford for Sunday, May 15," added Jana Russo-Priestley. "We will meet in Hartford in the morning and then attend the CTUCC Youth Revival at Liberty Christian Center International in the afternoon."
"This is a wonderful example of how collaboration can enrich local congregations," observed Debby Kirk, CTUCC Director of Youth and Young Adults. "By taking steps to build bridges across the divides of geography and race these adults and youth are developing relationships that nurture cultural understanding."
This trail used for the activity will soon be registered as an official letter box trail called "One in the Spirit." Contact Pastor Janine Baryza-Ly at 860-653-6495 for more information.
Anne Russo-Priestley is the Youth Coordinator at The First Church of Christ (Center Church) in Hartford.