9 Months in Chicago

A couple of weeks ago, I leafed through my personal journal and discovered that on March 10, 2015, I received my acceptance letter for seminary. Not a month later, on April 1, 2015, I announced my resignation to Grace UCC Uniontown. I put the worn book in my lap for a second; how could that be? When I started to think about everything that has happened in this last year, I made my head spin.

May 1 will mark the beginning of my ninth month in the Windy City area. For me, that proves difficult to believe as well. Because the last time I updated my friends and family was November, I thought the time had come for a new blog post. I mean, finally, right?

Church
When I first arrived in Elburn, I signed a one-year contract with Community Congregational Church to serve as their Director of Evangelism and Spiritual Growth. Part of my salary comes from a conference LEEAP grant, which can be renewed up to three years. Two months ago, the church received word that the grant had been approved for another year. I will remain working in Elburn, which proves important to me, as I can continue to build relationships with the congregants and continue to do some (hopefully) positive and valuable work here. Our interim pastor has included me in important services such as Thanksgiving Eve,  Ash Wednesday, and Maundy Thursday; he even allowed me to help visit shut-ins and serve communion during Holy Week. I led worship at the end of January and helped plan a women-led service in  April with the late pastor’s wife, Andrea. We continue to attempt to get an after school program off the ground. I am learning to remain hopeful in failure. I don’t give up easily, my friends!

In early February, I attended a workshop by Kennon Callahan at Ravenswood UCC on the north side. He spoke about his twelve keys to church vitality. Although church vitality always requires more than twelve “keys,” he offered some great insight from his own ministry experience that has been helpful in implementing in Elburn.

I continue to heed my call to associate parish ministry focusing on youth and faith formation, hoping that one day I will be able to intersect that work with some kind of work in Latin American immigration, probably in a local community-type setting. Next year, I will need to complete some field-site work for my degree, and I’m looking forward to either doing that with my current church or with an organization that works with immigrants.

School
If I tried to tell you this semester has been a breeze, I would be lying. I took four classes: Religion in North America, Interpreting the Hebrew Bible II, Systematic Theology, and Christian Ethics. Let’s just say I will be excited to turn in my finals two weeks from now.

And then year one of seminary will be done.

I’ve learned so much this year! Not only have I created close friendships that have turned into family, I have learned about a variety of topics. Specifically, I know a lot more about liberation theology and hope to explore that more in the next two years. In addition, I watched as a great number of people I care about have gone through their third-year constructive theology project, which includes dialoguing four theologians with a specific topic and context. Needless to say, I plan to do a lot of reading throughout the summer to begin to prepare for said project; I already have a stack of books written by and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer on my summer reading shelf.

A week ago, I was present for a chapel that focused on Latin American immigration, and a couple months ago, I participated in a feminist chapel during women’s history month. These proved moving and inspiring for me. Particularly, I enjoyed the feminist chapel, where we lit candles in honor of the inspiring women in our lives.

Mondays turned into “family dinner” days, where a group of friends go out to a local restaurant in Hyde Park for dinner and conversation together. We have attempted to try a new place each week. Our explorations have allowed our palates to enjoy various foods, including Italian, Indian, Asian fusion, Japanese, Greek, Mediterranean, and a variety of American junk like cheeseburgers and domestic beer.

Adventures
Despite a busy semester, I attempted to continue to partake in a bit of adventuring. At the end of March, I flew home to surprise my parents and spend a few days in Ohio; what a great respite! I spent a few days during reading week in Oklahoma with Amanda, who has friends there from her time studying at Oklahoma State. On St. Patrick’s Day, we saw the green Chicago River (it gets really, really green!). My seminary BFF, Joey, celebrated his 30th birthday, and I experienced a bar with video games–awesome. Just last week, Belinda and Margaret were in town for the Faith Forward Conference, and it was awesome to see them and host them at my place.

And now, summer is approaching and Chicago will be flourishing. I will do a lot of exploring in the next couple of months and will keep you UPDATED MORE OFTEN on my wanderings! (I’ve been a little busy :)) I also hope to begin devotional writings again, so stay tuned for those.

And now, I must quit the procrastinating. I have four classes, two papers, and three final exams standing between me and four months of relaxation…time to get to it.

Peace,
Kim

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Chicago has an awesome theater district! Amanda and I went to see “Potted Potter” right after Christmas.

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Some seminary BFFs (Joey and Anthony), but now we need a new picture, as we have some new family members, especially a couple of gems who moved here after Christmas (Gilbert and Wesley).

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Feminist Chapel during Women’s History Month

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With the family at Christmas.

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Life Update

We stood at the entrance to the dimly-lit, cool chapel with a tray of light and a basket of flowers. Tiny tea lights traced the edges of the room, bouncing glowing reflections off of the back wall of windows. A respectful altar placed at the front displayed various images and icons, and a beautiful pattern of colorful powdered dust decorated the floor. As guests entered, we welcomed them with a festive, “Happy Diwali!” I used the pad of my ring finger to place a bindi on each person’s forehead and sprinkled each one with rose water. My friend, Joey, stood across from me with a basket of flower petals and tossed them at each person as they entered the celebration. This is the traditional greeting for the Hindu celebration of Diwali. Our classmate and friend, Bhumika, organized the celebration for students to participate in this important part of her tradition, which is the festival of lights–celebrating light over darkness.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a life-update with you! My apologies. Life has been a whirlwind, and time, as you know, goes by too quickly. Some days I wonder if I will go to bed and wake up from this dream! Next week I register for spring classes. That cannot be. Here’s a brief update on my wanderings:

Church
Community Congregational Church has been so welcoming and warm over the last three months. Last month, however, we suffered a great loss with the passing of Pastor Ben, following surgery complications. He proved highly influential in getting me to Elburn and was someone I felt like I knew much longer than just a couple of months. The Illinois Conference minister, association ministers and staff, several pastors, many colleagues, numbers of boy scouts, and droves of community members came to pay their respects to this pastor who had been in ministry for about fifteen years. He had been at Community Congregational for the last three. Please send some prayers/good vibes/thoughts toward the McNeal family as well as the congregation, as they prepare to go through another search process.

Other church activities have been going well. We held the church’s first trunk or treat event for the community a few weeks ago, and that was well-attended. Now, we are preparing to be a part of the Elburn Christmas Stroll, which happens every year in conjunction with Small Business Saturday. Nerdy me was excited to attend the Fox Valley/Chicago Metropolitan Association Fall Gathering in Elgin, which was fantastically planned and well-attended. Rev. Michael Piazza spoke about church revitalization and offered fresh insight.

School
Life at Chicago Theological Seminary has been overwhelming, challenging, and scary in the best of ways. I cannot thank friends and family back in Ohio enough for being patient with my decision about whether or not to come to Chicago for face-to-face classes or do them online. To those who encouraged me to go (all of you), thank you so much. I’ve never jumped into community life so deeply and so quickly. One of my favorite activities is Wednesday chapel and lunch. A few weeks ago, we attended an interfaith chapel, which included Hindu meditation, Buddhist and Muslim prayer, Christian scripture and sermon (in the tradition of the African American church), and Jewish songs. It was the best chapel I have been to yet! After chapel, there’s always lunch, so we get to chow down with our friends before heading off to respective classes, work, or home. Speaking of classes, my favorite one this semester is Interpreting the Hebrew Bible. It reminds me of how much I loved Dr. Watson’s Hermeneutics class at Malone. We study and draw so much out of biblical passages that make the understanding of my faith so rich. Pastoral care is another favorite class–I feel like that class would have served me well over my tenure of working with youth (and will definitely help me to better work with them in the future!).

Adventures
I’ve tried to allow some time for adventuring amidst a life of constant study and work! Now that Thanksgiving quickly approaches, walking through the city between train stations has been enjoyable. The German Christkindl Market is going up in Daley Plaza, and Macy’s already has their large, ornamental trumpets on display on State Street. Slowly the city adorns itself for Christmas. Over my fall break/reading week, DeAnna (my college roommate–junior year at Malone) took the Megabus from Cleveland to Chicago for an overnight visit. We hit the normal tourist spots and had some Chicago pizza, of course. In September I got to see Nadia Bolz-Weber speak about her new book, Accidental Saints. Mid-September I attended a Jewish Yom Kippur service and break-the-fast conversation. The same friend who organized Diwali invited me to her new apartment for the traditional Hindu housewarming and blessing, which involves a lot of singing! On a crisp October evening I took the train into Glen Ellyn to hang out on a bar patio for something called beer and hymns–a band played a bunch of traditional hymns and we drank Oktoberfest. I’ve been trying to do a lot of new things here and there. I look forward to my family arriving in two weeks for the Thanksgiving holiday!!

I shared a bit about our Diwali experience at the beginning because that celebration reminded me of the power of light. At our seminary, we are all vastly different. We span denominations, faith traditions, sexual orientations, cultures, races, genders, etc. Some of my classmates don’t really believe in God. Others are trying to figure out what exactly to believe. However, I do think we all believe in the power of light over darkness. I think that’s why we’re all together in this community; I think we all see the darkness that overshadows the world, and we want to each be a spark that collectively illumines goodness and hope.

Talk to you again soon.

Peace,
Kim

PS Thanks to all of you who sent cards for my birthday and Halloween! (I just happened to look over at the door frame that leads into the kitchen, where I have them all lovingly taped.)

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Happy Diwali!

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The quad at the University of Chicago (close to CTS). On Tuesdays, some friends and I have been going here to eat at the food trucks. Chicago weather has been kind so far this November.

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View from above!

Kimmy in the Windy City: HUMBLED

Hi, friends! I told you I’d keep you updated on my Chicago wanderings, and I know it’s been a while since we’ve interacted over the interwebs. However, I’ve been settling into a routine (6:30 a.m. alarm (snooze), 6:45 a.m. alarm (snooze), 6:59:30 a.m. alarm (snooze), 7 a.m. alarm–finally roll out of bed to make the 8:05 train into the city) and enjoying the start of school at Chicago Theological Seminary. After just arriving home and finishing up the third week of classes, I decided the time had come to update you on the latest in life.

One word can sum up the last three weeks well: humbled. Almost a month ago, incoming seminarians flocked to CTS for a two-day orientation that would help us become familiar with the school, staff, and each other. It’s humbling in itself to walk over the threshold of a graduate school after being away from academia for a few years, but then I met my classmates. Honestly, I cannot sum up the glorious diversity, understanding, and friendship I have already encountered in my classmates! It seems like CTS is a place where no one fits in because everyone fits in. Everyone brings a beautiful story, background, and smile to the table–wonderfully appropriate that I truly believe God welcomes everyone to the table. It’s almost like a living communion table (Try that one on for size, youth leaders. Living nativities are so out. :)). And yet, not all of my classmates and I share the same concept of God.  Like I said, it’s beautiful.

Seminary classes also humble me in a wonderful way. This semester, I registered for four classes: Hebrew Bible, Intro to Pastoral Care, History of Christian Thought, and Augustine, Niebuhr, and Malcolm X. Each class, over the last three weeks, has covered the story of creation that we find in Genesis 1. Each class has covered that story in a different way with new enlightenments that I never even considered! An older classmate said to me today, “You know, we come here to learn theology, but I think the only thing I’ve learned so far is how little I know!”

Even the downtown walk between connecting train stations proves humbling. At each corner, a beggar stands with a cup and cardboard sign, hoping that I can pass along a little more than pocket lint. One can easily go broke attempting to make sure each and every person in need has a little something. On too many occasions, I make fantastic eye contact with the sidewalk, too ashamed to even look a person in the eye and simply smile. I’m going to be better at that. This also alludes to me a greater challenge–the changing of the world. We live in a big world, with many problems and great responsibilities. How can I–and the world-changers with whom I attend school–even begin to make a dent?

The coolest thought I’ve had over the last three weeks is that I truly believe that we can.

I miss you all! Much love to my St. John’s UCC home church family and all of their work with the rummage sale last weekend. Grace UCC, your cards and gifts have offered so much encouragement and motivation. I cannot thank you all enough–another way humility has overwhelmed. God has been good.

Peace,

Kim

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The incoming CTS class at orientation (both online and face-to-face students)

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Nadia Bolz-Weber at Fourth Presbyterian downtown, promoting her new book, Accidental Saints.

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Chicago River/City at night

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The place in Hyde Park we go Tuesdays in between classes for FOOD.

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Architecture in Hyde Park (also my expression while studying for the Augustine, Niebuhr, and Malcolm X class)

Don’t Ask Me to Turn Back

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!’ When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.” ~Ruth 1: 16-18

“Whatever you can do
or dream you can,
begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A few years ago, the young women involved in our youth group enjoyed getting together so much that we decided to gather over the summer for a young women’s bible study. You can imagine the laughs and the conversations that evolved from each session; sometimes those studies involved much spiritual reflection and others did not. On one particular dusty afternoon, we gathered on the humid couches in the youth room, and I began to talk about Ruth.

Ruth: the incredible adventurer who’s story amazingly shows up in the Old Testament, amidst a challenging time for the people of Israel. Because there are only two books out of the collection of sixty-six that focus primarily on women as the main characters (the other being Esther, though the Gospel of John alludes to the role of faithful women quite often), Ruth has always captured my attention. That afternoon, we learned about Ruth’s journey, how she left Moab confidently with her mother-in-law to settle in a new land, despite the desperate attempts of Naomi to convince her to turn back and the temptation to follow Orpah after she herself heeded Naomi’s wise request. Ruth journeyed on, telling Naomi directly that she would not turn back. She would face what the future would bring-the good and the bad. The young women who showed up that day-Sam, Kathryn, and Grace, joined together in making a short movie trailer to portray Ruth’s story. Their tagline? “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get sandy!”

I looked at my calendar today–three weeks. It’s been three weeks since I left my own homeland and began to settle in a new place with new cultures and new traditions. I catch myself telling people I bought my tasty strawberries at the Giant Ea-no-Jewel (the grocery store chain here). A week ago, I frowned and knitted my eyebrows when I noticed the sign at the bar across the street announcing a “Bags Tournament Next Weekend!” and smiled as my eyes focused on the cornhole boards in the background. I can agree with others now, as they speak amongst themselves about the Corner Grind having the best homemade vanilla donuts and Paisano’s being the best pizza joint in town. This weekend, I enjoyed being part of the annual Elburn Days festival, a traditional town gathering with fair fries reeking with vinegar and a parade going down Main Street, where the sidewalks are crowded with children unsticking freshly-tossed tootsie rolls from their teeth. New place, new traditions, new life-journeys.

Ruth made a new life for herself in Bethlehem. She found herself well taken care of by Naomi’s family and people who could’ve treated her as a foreigner-with disgust, apprehensive attitudes, and rejection. However, Ruth’s story reminds us that ALL are extended the welcome to be part of God’s family, no matter what your past journey has been and whatever your future journey might look like, and once you’ve tasted that welcoming grace, there’s no temptation to turn back.

Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of spending some time with friends at Put-In-Bay. The first activity we pursued on the island (besides renting our island travel vessel, a golf cart called “Indiana Jones”) included walking the beautiful brick labyrinth at the Episcopal church. I have walked labyrinths before, but I’ve never walked one with other people. At one point, Marilyn and I hit a curve at the exact same time and walked a length of the labyrinth together, though she was a bit further than I in her journey toward the center. I counted it a blessing to know that we walk our journeys with other people all the time, and we walk them with some people for a very short amount of time. This does not discount the impact of that person or group of people on our own life journey, but it certainly enhances it, knowing that those who have traveled the same journey before, whatever that might have been, will help to guide us as we continue.

Thank you, God, for the journey. The journey that brings joy, tears, adventure, heartbreak, excitement, and reluctance. Help me to move confidently into the next journey. Help us all.

Take chances. Make mistakes. Get sandy.

Peace,
Kim

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Most of the boxes are unpacked!

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Last weekend I took the train into the city to see what my commute will be like. This is my train station (in the city).

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The church float for the Elburn Days Parade (There are waves on the side, and on the back it says “we’re going to need a bigger boat.”).

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Getting really anxious for school to start–with all of my handmade pens from talented Grace UCC men!

Kimmy in the Windy City :: Part 1

“Did he even look?”
“No,” a tall, olive skinned man behind the counter responded, and while nodding to acknowledge me–the new girl in town–he added, “He just keeps on walking. Traffic stops for him.”

I sat with my parents in the Corner Grind Café on the corner of North and Main Streets, and as we finished a strong cup, the owners pointed out the man briskly crossing the street and heading for the café door. He, they said, is a regular. Been around for years. Comes and goes. Stops in and rushes out. After he had ordered a blueberry muffin (the thought of banana and chocolate chips repulsed him), he exited and walked right into the street without looking. Traffic would stop for him.

I feel as if that’s been my life over the last year. One morning last summer I woke up and decided the time had come to pursue seminary. The calling had been building for years and years, but when undergraduate ended, I relished the break from life in academia. Other stuff kept me from moving forward then. Nothing much kept me from deciding to move forward in 2014. Many times over the last twelve months, my well-meaning mom has asked how I might make this possible. I knew the school I hoped to attend, and I knew I’d need a job to support myself through three more years of classes. Each time, I responded, “I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work, Mom, but God has called me, and I think God will provide.”

Then, I’d lay in bed at night and wonder myself how it all would come together. Oftentimes working myself into a state of panic, I kept myself awake so much that I began to lull myself to sleep with a prayer: Give me peace and make a way. Well, God has indeed provided. God gave me peace and made a way. Like the Elburn man, I have spent the last few months moving forward without stopping to look. I feared that if I actually started to think about what I decided to pursue, I’d back out. I’d think about leaving friends and family, a fantastic church and coworkers, and an area that I had known my whole life–and I wouldn’t leave. But I left, and here I am.

Here I am…waking to the smell of coffee wafting into my window from the café next door.
Here I am…walking by the neighboring pizzeria and allowing the sharp sting of pepperoni to tickle my nostrils.
Here I am…meeting new people who have been here for decades and are proud of their town.
Here I am…taking in the beauty of an endless scene of corn and soybean fields.
Here I am…listening to the roar of the often-passing trains taking cargo in and out of the city.
Here I am…following a call that God has made possible for me though many of you.

Thank you.

Thanks be to God.

Peace, Kim

Many of you have expressed an interest in keeping up with my Chicago adventures. I will do that here…on this blog…in a series called “Kimmy in the Windy City.” Enjoy!

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My new residence. I live upstairs.

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Our United Church of Christ sisters and brothers at Community Congregational Church.

Holy Laughter

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says The Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen.” Jeremiah 29:11-12

At one point, I majored in English.

That was short-lived, of course, spanning only a semester in my sophomore year of college, but the reason I traded Bonhoeffer for Beowulf stretches back to the summer of 2008.

Coming off of my freshman year at Malone, an advisor suggested a couple of options for sophomore-year internships. One internship I wanted badly. The church, located near my hometown, would pay a small salary and was associated with the United Church of Christ. On the other hand, I interviewed for a different internship where I felt less comfortable, but the search team offered me the position right away. Eager to fill the position quickly, the latter church requested my decision by a certain date. The day after I turned them down, I received the call from the former church indicating they chose a candidate with more ministry experience.

What does a confused college student do when two huge opportunities disappear in a 24-hour span?

She thinks about how much it sucks and switches her major to English.

Jeremiah thought things sucked for him, too. He doesn’t just give us a cheesy line that we find on every religious graduation card this time of year. He distinctly reminds God’s people that in the midst of a mess, God still has a plan. Everyone stops after the “hope and a future” part of that verse, and rarely do we continue to read the words from this reluctant prophet to a people who were sick and tired of waiting:

“In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says The Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

A few years ago, I discovered a Yiddish proverb: We plan; God laughs. It’s funny because it’s true—we think we know what career we will have ten years from now, we think we know who we want to be with, we think we think we can control every finite detail of our lives, but truthfully, we cannot.

In the midst of our messes, God has a plan. In our exiles, God still works. In the darkest places, God reveals a spark of light.

Thank God I didn’t end up where I wanted to in 2008. Turns out, I ended up somewhere even better. We plan; God laughs.

And often, we look back and share in that holy laughter, too.

Peace,
Kim

Why hiring a youth pastor won’t “bring back the youth”

I have spent roughly the last year and a half studying the faith of emerging adults—what keeps them faithfully active in congregations after high school and what inevitably has been turning them away. I’ve looked closely at ways to bridge the gap between the local church and their far-away college students, read a few books on the subject (“You Lost Me” by David Kinnamen, “College Ministry 101” by Chuck Bromar, and “Souls in Transition” based on studies from the National Study of Youth & Religion), and thought about new ways to engage emerging adults from our own congregation in a connected ministry after high school. However, what I have found—and confirmed by a recently trending HuffPost Religion article—is that there proves one common theme that connects young adults to religion.

Parents.

Most churches look at their dwindling youth groups and decide to hire a youth pastor to “bring back the youth.” I have come to believe that there is a flaw in this thinking. Hiring a youth minister will most likely not bring back youth in terms of the numbers of butts on the youth fellowship couch Sunday and Wednesday evenings. Creating and offering a variety of programs might provide some coherence to a group of youth in a congregation, but we notice more and more that our groups vary from week to week. Youth ministers find ourselves saying, “Well, our group would be huge if everyone showed up on the same Sunday!” But they don’t. And they won’t. And according to the variety of sources mentioned above, parents are the number one factor in the faith formation of their youth. In fact, the role of the parent as faith former far outnumbers the role of a youth ministry, a clergy person, religious schooling, or service project participation.

Before I talk myself out of a job, I want to make a suggestion. Perhaps we should evolve our thinking about the role of the youth pastor. Perhaps, instead of program-creator, today’s youth pastor should be parent-empowerer. (Insert heroic trumpet sounds here.) Let’s be honest. I’ve heard that the last argument parents want to have with their youth on a Sunday night is whether or not to go back to church for youth group. Feelings of guilt, unhappiness, and tension on the parents’ part ensue, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. David Briggs says, according to a recent study of the NSYR, parents should actively do three things:
1. Talk about faith at home
2. Attach great importance to their beliefs and
3. Be active members of their congregations.

That’s it.

He also suggests that youth pastors work with parents and their children from BIRTH to involve youth in congregational activities and provide opportunities for children and parents to worship together. Ivy Beckwith, the Faith Formation Team Leader of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ, suggests encouraging worship and going to church as a family as early as possible. Establishing this act as “something we do together as a family” early will bring less resistance from adolescents later.

The way churches look at the role of a youth pastor should continue to evolve in the future. While the focus has historically been on someone who can bring youth back, I believe the future is in the role of the parent and how they might be empowered to talk about and live out their faith WITH their children.

Peace,
Kim

Find the HuffPost article here:
http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/6067838?utm_hp_ref=religion