Most teenagers by Saturday are no doubt tired of looking, listening and talking to computer screens all week for school instruction and social interaction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, Eastern PA Conference youth gladly gather on-screen twice a month for Conference Council on Youth Ministry (CCYM) meetings that for some have become like talk therapy.
“We’ve maintained an active membership throughout the pandemic, meeting virtually every two weeks,” reports the Rev. David Piltz, CCYM Coordinator. “Our meetings are for more than business. They are times for us to enjoy fellowship and laughter and to discuss important topics, such as faith, diversity, dealing with society’s -ism’s, and how to live as a Christian in today’s world.”
Conversations may become serious, but they always begin with fun questions, like “If you could be part of a house what part would you be and why?” What eventuates, said Piltz, are bonds of friendship, concern for one another, feelings of safety, honest self-expression, and simple joy.
Youth discuss race, sexuality, abuse, other serious topics
Then meetings get deep, as the group explores topics difficult to discuss, such as race, sexuality, vulnerability, fears, abuse, addiction and so on.
“This is amazing,” said Lydia, a second-year member. “I don’t know how we go from a fun question to an in-depth conversation within 5 minutes of meeting.” Wesley, a new member, said he joined CCYM after hearing about the deep conversations that occur. He wanted to be a part of them; and he was not disappointed.
Piltz guides the youth and their adult mentors into discussions of diversity, equity and inclusion partly because all groups are challenged by the Conference to explore those concerns as part of the Northeastern Jurisdiction’s (NEJ) Call to Action Initiative. Fortunately, those concerns come naturally to these teens, some of whom may witness prejudice and exclusion in their social settings.
In fact, the CCYM youth led the NEJ Council on Youth Ministry in a creative discussion about diversity when they met on Zoom last fall. Sarah, a talented second-year member, authored a variety of dramatic vignettes portraying the challenges of diversity that the youth performed and then discussed.
CCYM has delved into other topics in Zoom discussions led by guests who have candidly shared their own life lessons with biblical perspectives. In January they hosted a virtual rally that featured music, poetry, sharing of Scripture and stories, and profound testimonies by recording artists Tasha Layton, Keith Everette Smith and Egypt Speaks.
“Perseverance” was the rally’s focus, and the youth identified that virtue as a key element in dealing with the pandemic.
In February and March, CCYM tried something new. The youth gathered with students from Drexel University’s Open Door UM Campus Ministry on Zoom for a six-week series of inspirational talks for youth and young adults on topics like relationships and personal healing. Young poet and performer Egypt Speaks and Christian motivational speaker Lee Woodall, an ex-NFL football star, took turns leading the weekly “Fireside Chat and Prayer” sessions. Piltz is also Open Door’s Campus Minister and was able to bring the two groups together.
Youth, college students experience chats, prayer together
“In a winter that brought many challenges, the opportunity for our group to join with students from Drexel to discuss relationships, forgiveness, and God’s ability to guide us through our difficulties was a great blessing,” wrote John McCormick, youth leader at Cedarville UMC in Pottstown. “It was awesome to witness the teens from each group offering honest thoughts and valuable questions in each Zoom meeting. And the presenters did a great job of establishing a connection with them and making them feel comfortable and supported.”
CCYM planning August 28 youth rally
Now CCYM is planning a rally for August 28, tentatively onsite at Covenant UMC in Bath Township, which hosted its Camping at the Crossroads youth rally in 2019. While the youth yearn to gather face-to-face again, they will follow safety precautions.
Their theme is “Time 2 (……)” from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The event will feature music, guest speakers, games, mission moments, youth testimonies, youth group team-building contests, and more. Registration will begin soon.
Michael Gold, Covenant UMC’s youth minister, and Jezerel Gutierrez, the Conference’s Assistant Young People’s Ministry Coordinator, are also instrumental partners in guiding CCYM’s activities. “Jezerel is incredibly supportive and passionate about teaching youth how to lead,” said Piltz, who leaves his part-time position for a new pastoral appointment in July. “She instills in them confidence that they can do things they don’t think they can do; and that helps make our rallies truly youth-led.”