By Barbara Nissen, special contributor
Easton was abuzz about the new United Methodist pastor. For one thing, the pastor was young-–much younger than they’d seen in a long time. And she was a woman. Turns out, it was a combination that brought youth into the church.
“It’s very exciting,” said Mary Jo Davis, a member of Easton United Methodist Church and one of the youth sponsors. “She became a role model.”
“The youth seemed really excited to have a young pastor—and a female one at that,” Pastor Elizabeth Young said.
Young is a seminary student at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., an hour’s drive away from Easton, which is a primarily Catholic community, population 260, in Leavenworth county.
In other words, once the ball started rolling, it took on a life of its own.
“We have 12 in our youth group, which is one-quarter of the congregation,” Young said. “One girl rode her bike to church one of the first Sundays. I preached on baptism, and her parents came with her the next week.”
Adults are catching the spirit.
“I asked the congregation, ‘What would it look like not to just be here on Sunday morning?’” Starting small groups and an adult Sunday-school class, helping and working with the kids made it exciting for the adults, Young said.
One result of the new youth group, which ranges in age from fifth grade to high school, was the confirmation of nine young people this year.
“That’s the biggest confirmation class in 20 years,” Davis said.
The youth had not experienced anything like what Young brings to the church, Davis pointed out. For example, the youth group mapped out and planted a community garden this year, and youth and parents were involved in a walk-through Bethlehem experience at Christmas.
The transition to being the church Easton UMC is today came with a few hurdles. Some members weren’t sure about having a female pastor; some were wary of having a group of youth in the church building, as they had a previous bad experience.
But by not growing up in the church community, children didn’t know even basic Bible stories, so Young laid a foundation through stories that connect to children, such as Moses and the exodus and Noah’s ark.
From the newfound energy of a youth group, the children have learned work, study, fellowship, mission and evangelism. The adults seem to have learned to live the promise of a spiritual community.
The challenge now before the church is keeping the youth engaged without Young as the pastor. She has decided not to return next year, though her thoughts are definitely with the church and what they started together.
As Easton UMC experienced, youth bring vitality to a congregation. Young shared the following advice for other small congregations needing a youth infusion:
From the laity perspective, Davis, a social worker, warns against being afraid of change.
“Don’t be afraid of doing something that didn’t work before.”