Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Summertime Youth Mission Trips – Why?

In late July a group of eight senior high students and four adult advisors drove 700 miles from Fredericksburg, Virginia to Sumner, Maine to spend a week staffing a vacation Bible school, participating in community service projects, studying scripture and, of course, sightseeing.

This was the fourth year that the youth group from the Spotsylvania Presbyterian Church joined with the Congregational Church of East Sumner, U.C.C.  Each year’s visit leaves the youth and the church members looking forward to doing it all over again the following summer.  Rumor has it that some of the kids want to come and stay!

As pastor of the Sumner church have a front row seat to the Spotsy/Sumner connection.  It is but one example of what I see as a promising development in youth ministry.  Teams of youth and adults from churches all over the country combine concrete community service in the church’s name with fellowship and spiritual growth.  In New England it is common to find youth groups organize and raise funds to travel to small towns in Appalachia, urban ministries in major cities and Native American communities in the west.  The flavor and focus of each project is necessarily unique to the church sending the team and the receiving community.  In our case we host youth from the south, who come north to share their faith, their energy and themselves.  Youth and adults, visitors and residents alike gain new perspectives on the world, and new understandings of the role personal faith plays in giving time, talent and energy to others.

Time was, such trips were criticized as expensive indulgences on the part of well-heeled “do-gooders” who brought an attitude of superiority to the “service” they offered persons and groups they thought of as inferior.  There may have been some validity to such criticisms, and there’s no way of knowing if such attitudes are present in some of today’s projects, but I see none of that in the Spotsy/Sumner visits.  Talking with persons leading other trips, I believe that in recent years mission groups commit themselves to meeting others as partners, doing projects that help people, and also spend time building personal friendships and relationships between communities.

But what about the expenses?  These things do cost money.  What about continuity?  How can programs be conducted in such a way that relationships are ongoing?  And what does mounting such a project have to do with growing in faith? 

During this year’s Spotsy/Sumner event, Tim Habecker, leader of the group from Virginia, interviewed Bill Glass, President of the Congregation in Sumner.  In it Bill talks about the two facets of a successful partnership: the service offered to a small church, and the learning given in return to the youth and adults making the trip.  The interview isn’t long, but it sums up very well the things that have made the past four years memorable, and has us looking forward to what we may do next year.

The link below will take you to a YouTube posting of their conversation.  There is some background noise, so you’ll need to turn your volume up.

Howard MacMullen
© August, 2013

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