Two Charleston UMCs net stronger energy, resources by partnering in youth faith rite
By Jessica Connor
CHARLESTON—Two Lowcountry churches stepped out of their comfort zones and teamed up for what can be one of the most church-centric rites in the faith: confirmation.
Now, they are reaping the benefits.
St. Andrews Parish United Methodist Church and Grace UMC, both small Charleston congregations, decided they would do a collaborative partnership rather than separately guide their youth in learning about the meaning of Christian faith, the history and teachings of the UMC and an explanation of the baptismal and membership vows they will be professing.
The churches pastors started talking about a year ago, in December 2010, deciding to do a lengthier nine-month confirmation experience that focused on the seven C s “ from creation to Christ s covenant all the way to new creation. From February through November, six St. Andrews youth and eight Grace youth met weekly, alternating churches, to delve into their faith walk.
It exceeded our expectations, it really did, said the Rev. Chris Barrett, St. Andrews pastor. We got the kids together and had some high-energy stuff at the beginning in particular, because we knew the kids were a little skeptical; they weren t really sure this was something they wanted to do. But what we saw over the course of it was the kids matured a great deal, stuck with the program, really bought in to what we were doing. And by the time we went on the confirmation retreat in November ¦ the kids were operating as a unit.
The Rev. Dick Broomall, Grace pastor, said the collaboration was a great experience that enabled them to broaden their reach and generate new energy.
I thought it was one of the best things we ve done here, Broomall said. The kids right from the get-go accepted each other, talked with each other, palled around with each other. I was a little bit surprised.
Putting the ˜united in United Methodist
While on the surface, a confirmation collaboration might seem like an easy, common partnership, it s actually not common at all, said the Rev. Judson King, congregational specialist for the S.C. Conference s Division of Ministries with Young People.
While he and other specialists try hard to encourage such partnerships, there is that fear, King said “ the defensive fear that perhaps a member of Church A might prefer Church B and switch churches.
We tend to be fiefdoms whether we acknowledge that or not, tend to operate very independently of one another, Barrett said. Often there is a resistance to the kind of partnership we re doing because there s risk involved “ you might like that other church better than our church.
But when churches take that risk, stepping out on faith for the connectional good, they benefit, King said. It does what the connectional church is supposed to “ it connects.
Your resources increase by bringing churches together, King said. The number of youth increase, so there are more things you can do with more kids: more games you can play, stuff like that. The kids like it, too “ it s more people they can connect with.
Barrett said the experience has been energetic and positive for the church and youth.
We sought to put the ˜united in United Methodist, Barrett said “ and it worked. It s about how can we collaborate, not how can we compete. It was win, win, win across the board for me.
Now, St. Andrews Parish is exploring other things they can do collaboratively “ with Grace, with other churches in the district, even district-wide.
Broomall said Grace, too, is thinking about ways they can foster connectionalism.
This might be one of those cases where the young lead the way, Broomall said. They have a lot fewer self-built walls that separate their church from someone else s church, their ministry from someone else s ministry. As adults we often feel ownership of our church, but the downside of that is we sometimes get defensive.
However, Broomall said seeing the youth come together and work creatively and cooperatively, seeing how well the partnership worked, opened his eyes to how easily such partnerships can work elsewhere.
Helping kids ˜get it
Parents and youth, too, said they were impressed with the easy collaboration between the churches “ and with the impact the larger group made.
Parent Jon McCall, who attends St. Andrews Parish, said there are not a lot of youth at his church, so teaming up with another small congregation broadened his son Seth s confirmation experience.
This gave Seth a chance to share faith with other kids his age ¦ it really added to the experience, McCall said. At the age of 13, there are not many things you can say to your friends that are honest and open regardless of what the subject is; they don t share their feelings very much. But this (confirmation opportunity) broadened the group, and it was a safe haven to discuss topics, your faith, your beliefs, and talk things out.
What really struck McCall was the straightforward, congenial leadership-sharing between the two pastors.
The thing that made it work was that Chris and Dick got along so well; there was no ˜my group, ˜your group, ˜I m the leader, ˜you re the leader kind of thing, McCall said. It was very seamless.
McCall also said the opportunity to interact with other kids outside Seth s home church made the teen a more confident evangelizer. Now, Seth invites school friends to church.
When I went to the first confirmation meeting, my friends and I didn t like the idea of pairing with another church because we didn t know any of them, Seth said. It was like that for about three weeks, but by the end of the 18 weeks, we didn t want to quit meeting with each other. … We had to share things about ourselves and our faith, and we found out that we weren t very different. We grew closer week by week, and we felt like they were part of our church and vice versa by the end of the process. It taught us how to share our ideas with others freely and work well with people we didn t know.
Debbie Underwood, whose daughter Mary Wagenbrenner went through the confirmation collaboration, called it a mountaintop experience between the faith transformation in the kids and the natural way the churches teamed up.
It was a perfect combination from the get-go, Underwood said.
Underwood said her older daughter was confirmed several years ago in the typical single-church, shorter-time manner. She doesn t know whether it was the collaboration or the fact that the kids journeyed together for nine months, but Mary got a whole lot more out of it than her sister did.
The different things they did, and going back and forth each week to each other s churches so nobody felt they were in unchartered territory, was really (key), she said, noting the group started a Facebook page so they can stay in touch now that confirmation is over. They had no barriers.
And in the end, that s really what confirmation is all about “ helping kids feel comfortabl
e so they can fully understand what it means to be an authentic Christian.
This was a real opportunity for us, Broomall said.