July was a busy month for me. First, July 15th, I took a bus from Fargo to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium at Purdure University in West Lafayette Indiana. I traveled with youth and other adults from the Presbytery of Northern Plains, including 2 youth from Bdecan. The Triennium is a conference for high school Presbyterians that happens every 3 years. It was a week of learning, worship, food, getting to know the friends you came with better, meeting new friends. Of course there was tons of other fun too. It was a busy week, but also very inspiring!
When I got back to Fargo, July 21st I went straight to Buena Vista University in Storm Lake Iowa for Synod school. I took courses about things that mattered to me, including one of Native American Spirituality. For me, Synod School is like a big Presbyterian reunion, where I meet old friends that I don’t see often and make new ones.
When trying to find a verse that summed up both of these weeks I decided on 1 Timothy 4:12. It says, Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for all believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.
During the Triennium, I got to have some amazing discussions with the youth that came with us. I heard their thoughts on some really challenging questions. The thing that surprised me most was their passion for worship. Some of our youth waited over an hour each day to get good seats for worship. It was amazing to worship with over 5,000 youth and adults.
There were many fun parts of Synod School this year. I really enjoyed the worship. My favorite part was something that I hadn’t seen done there in past years. Before the message each day, the pastor had a time with the kids. All the kids would go up, and she was surrounded by kids on all sides, from toddlers to 12 year olds. Even with no kids of my own, this was always a sweet moment.
Each time, she asked the kids their advice on a question that went with her sermon. Some answers were the ones you would expect from kids, and the congregation would smile, or chuckle. There were other answers too. Answers that were so simple, they blew the congregation away. Each day, she used some of the answers that they gave as a large part of the Benediction to the service.
This reminds a kid’s night here years ago. There was a pastor friend of mine visiting me. He sat with the kids while I taught. I remember one boy specifically. While the rest of the kids were trying to pay attention, he was constantly distracted. He was talking, or moving, or out of his seat. I reminded him time and time again what he was supposed to be doing. By the looks of it, he was not taking anything from what I was teaching that night.
After the lesson, my friend said something that amazed me. He was watching this boy as well. He told me that although the boy was being distracting during most of the lesson, he knew every answer to every review question I had asked the group. From the front, it looked like that lesson was wasted on him, but it was not.
Working with youth and kids, I sometimes wonder how much they even get out of my class. They seem so distracted that it doesn’t even seem that they hear anything I say. The truth is, they are. Time and time again, they say something, and I am blown away by their knowledge. Sometimes they are listening, even when they act like they are not.
This scripture is telling young people to not let people judge them for being young but to be examples in faith. I don’t think this lets the rest of the congregation off the hook though. How can the congregation help the young people do this? We need to let their voices be heard in our congregations today. Yes, they are the church of tomorrow. How can they be the future leaders, if we don’t include them in the church today? I believe our job is to get to know the young people in our congregations. Ask them for their ideas. See what matters to them. Get them included in worship. Give them a chance for their voice to be heard. You may be surprised by their knowledge, as I often am!
My name is Joe Obermeyer. I was the Youth and Outreach Coordinator at Bdecan Presbyterian Church from 2013 to 20202.