Starting with May's edition of our Discipleship Matters newsletter, SNEUCC's Faith Formation team will be showcasing the good works and best practices present throughout the Southern New England Conference of the UCC. Please enjoy our inaugural edition - and if you're interested in having the work of your church, religious institution, or para-church organization showcased next month, please reach out to Faith Formation Program Support Associate Sean Amato for more details.
Photo Credit: Kara Russell
This month, our Spotlight on Service is on the work of the SALT ("Serving and Learning Together") high school youth group - a ministry of Church of Christ, Congregational in Newington, CT. Coordinated by Kara Russell, Assistant to the Pastor for Children and Youth, SALT is a reflection of the church's faith expression: youth readily participate in good works every Sunday, taking part in a culture of faith-through-service that - per Kara - existed in the congregation well before her arrival. "The kids are doing it because it's what they want to do," reports Kara. "They look forward to confirmation in eighth grade, because it means they can serve."
SALT's work is extensive, conducted throughout the greater Hartford area, and - at least according to this author - a successful model for youth engagement. In Kara's own words:
"For more than ten years, our high school youth group (SALT, or “Serving And Learning Together”) has volunteered on the third Sunday of every month at Center Church in Hartford. They prepare, plate, and serve hot meals to people experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. The ministry began as a breakfast operation in its early days, but grew to become a full dinner service! Our youth prepare meals such as homemade meatball subs, shepherd’s pie, chicken parmesan, and more. The meals also include a fresh salad and something sweet, like freshly baked cookies or brownies. The grocery expenses for the ministry are funded in large part by our congregation’s annual Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner, which is also run by our awesome youth!
At the height of the pandemic, we were unable to gather in the Center Church kitchen because of COVID health and safety concerns. Several of our high school students asked if they could bake at home for the people they couldn’t serve in person. They prepared homemade chocolate chip cookies and packaged them in snack bags with inspirational messages of love and hope written on every bag, and delivered the goodies to Center Church. This was entirely their own idea, and their adult chaperones and I were so moved by their willingness to find a way to reach out through the barrier that temporarily separated them from the community they love to serve.
We’ve since resumed our monthly trips to Center Church, and it’s back to business as usual for this 10-year plus youth ministry! We encourage other churches to empower their youth to provide for those less fortunate in their communities by becoming involved in a food service program. It’s been a fantastic way for our youth to put their faith into action."
Kara urges other churches to engage with Center Church's mission, including their food staples pantry and dinner service programming. In exploring how engagement with Center Church and its community has impacted the youth of SALT, Kara emphasized that such work is not just societally-beneficial: for its impressionable young participants, it is personally transformational.
As part of SALT's work, its youth wrestle with new responsibilities like learning how to cook, prepare, and distribute up to one hundred meals per aid session, lead prayers in the dining room, adapt their services to COVID-19 protocols, and - importantly - navigate "eye-opening" experiences that accompany work outside of their own comfort zone. Per Kara, youth who have never been exposed to food insecurity are able to see how it manifests in real time; participating in this work, then, offers an essential perspective for defying and dismantling stereotypes regarding those who may need a 'hand-up'. Youth are able to put what they have into better perspective and recognize the way in which they can live out their faith through betterment of their community.
The Faith Formation team would like to extend hearty thanks and congratulations to Newington's Church of Christ, Congregational and its SALT youth group for their laudable good works and such ready engagement with their faith. How are your youth putting faith into action? Share your stories with Program Support Associate Sean Amato, and you may just be spotlit in the next issue of Discipleship Matters!