One of my favorite questions to ask people at the end of the school year is, “As you think about this year of ministry, what are you particularly thankful for?”
This year, I used this question with both my students and my colleagues. In the process, I learned that people are thankful for being welcomed into our youth ministry and for the way that welcome extends beyond the walls of our church; For the fact that church is a place they want to be; And for the opportunity to lead, even during those times when they might be reluctant to do so. From one of my colleagues, I also heard, “I'm thankful for young people who go out of their way to get involved with our congregation as a whole and not just our youth ministry.”
I, too, am thankful for this.
Yet, given where youth are developmentally, the reality is without first receiving encouragement from caring adults, many youth will never pursue involvement in the church outside of our youth ministries.
That's why perhaps even more than I'm thankful for those youth who intentionally seek involvement in our church community, I'm thankful for the adults in our congregations who go out of their way to form connections with young people, either by taking initiative to do so on their own or by responding to an opportunity from others that helps them connect.
Recently, I gave adults in our community the opportunity to connect with our youth by writing prayers for our graduating seniors. These prayers were then combined with photos and put together in personalized prayer books for each of our seniors.
What began as a crazy idea soon blossomed into something far more beautiful than I ever imagined. Freshmen through juniors wrote prayers for their friends. Parents wrote prayers for their own kids as well as for kids they've treated as their own. Church staff wrote prayers for youth they've literally watched grow up in our church and so, too, did an assortment of other people from our congregation. They did so using their own words, each in a way that reflected their unique personality. Most hand-wrote their prayers, something that in some mysterious way added to the sacredness of the finished prayer books.
Yesterday, before giving these prayer books to our seniors, I sat in my sunroom and read them, praying the prayers others had written for our seniors as though they were my own. It was an act of worship that moved me to tears.
Truthfully, I suspect that right now, reading these prayers may be more meaningful to me than to the seniors who received them. Yet, my hope is these prayer books will travel with our seniors to college and beyond, continually serving as a visible reminder of their spiritual roots and of the community that has nurtured their faith throughout their lives and will continue to do so in the next season of their lives, continually holding them in prayer.
This, then, is why at the end of this season of ministry, I am particularly thankful for an intergenerational community that intentionally pours into and invests in the faith formation of each other. That's why, at the end of this season of ministry, I'm thankful for the visible reminder of how God pours out his love in and through community.
My hope is these prayer books will also make our seniors thankful for intergenerational community, if not now then years from now, when they pull from their box of sentimental trash a long-forgotten book of prayers and are once again reminded of a community who loves them and a God who makes that love possible.