Where are your church's youth? Maybe Camp Mechuwana
December 11, 2016
Norman Thombs, director of Camp Mechuwana, wrote the following piece about the camp’s annual December Rally, which took place Dec. 2-4, 2016 at the camp in Winthrop, ME.
How many of us involved with The United Methodist Church have heard these words: “We have no youth in our church”?
It is a problem, a huge problem, and one that I have witnessed firsthand over the years. But it is also not exactly true. I have just spent the weekend with 76 middle and high school kids from “your” church, or maybe more accurately from “our” church.
Let me tell you about some of the things your youth did as we gathered at Mechuwana. But first let me tell you about the makeup of the group. They came from five states; some come right out of United Methodist churches, some from other denominations. Many don’t have a church; their families do not attend them, and the only worship experience they get is here.
Some are homeless, or their families live with other families or relatives because they do not have a home of their own. Some have a parent in prison, so they live with the other parent, grandparent, or a guardian. Many come from families that are financially challenged to the point that food and shelter are a constant issue.
Some are comfortable with their own personhood; some search for an identity of self. Some are so grounded in their faith that they relish the chance to spread God’s word; others struggle to believe and to understand the meaning of God’s love or existence.
Some come from very conservative families and beliefs, while others are as liberal in their beliefs as you will find anywhere. Both are willing to stand their ground, and both are willing to share the ground they stand on with each other. That is the basic makeup of the group that I spent the weekend with at Mechuwana.
Each weekend is a little different; this weekend’s theme was “Hope.” We began Saturday morning with small-group discussions about hope and watched a video by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). We then assembled more than 60 UMCOR health kits that are ready to be shipped anywhere in the world.
Before lunch we had a speaker talk to us about a local program called Cottrell/Taylor baskets, which adopts local families and provides them with food, health products, vouchers for heating oil and other utilities. Mechuwana provides this group with toys that they distribute to more than 80 families. Our youth brought more than a 150 toys with them to this year’s December Rally.
Saturday we went to the Winthrop Christmas Parade and enjoyed the fellowship of being together. After dinner we held our dance, sang with the karaoke machine, played table games, and just plain had fun.
At 10 p.m. our dance ended and we were joined by Rev. Neil Gastonguay, who led us in a Service of Communion. Neil works with Youth Council members who assist him with the service. Part of that service was led by two youth who had prepared readings and a message for us.
We then took part in a tradition that is decades old as we silently went outside and gathered at the edge of the forest in a circle lit only by our candles where there were more readings, an open prayer, and, finally, singing. It is a truly moving time; the experience stays with you for a lifetime.
We sleep in a little, have breakfast, and close our weekend with worship that is put together with youth and adults working together, including our wonderful Mechuwana praise band. At one point in the service we place the gifts we have brought for our adopted families under the tree.
Closing is always emotional as we say “see you soon” to some of our closest friends. For some, leaving is not easy for other reasons. Those reasons are echoed in their words:
“This is my safe place.”
“This is where I have friends.”
“This is where I can talk about God.”
“This is where I am not judged, not ridiculed, not alone.”
“This is where I can be who I am.”
For those youth closing worship and circle hold a different emotion.
The hundreds of volunteers who make this ministry possible hear these words, and many of them lived those words themselves once; those words and emotions strengthen their resolve and dedication to this ministry.
Is it easy to put on seven youth events a year? No. Is it cost-effective? No. Is it what God is calling us to do? I believe it is.
So you see, you do have youth in your church, I just spent the weekend with them. Do I wish more would walk through your doors on Sunday? Absolutely. But that does not make them any less your youth. It might make it harder for you to know them personally, but it does not make them any less important.
Oh, and by the way, guess where I am spending New Year’s Eve?
You guessed it. With your kids. We are expecting more than 125.