Family and Community, those were the two words that floated around all weekend during DNow at First Baptist, Richmond. 6th through 12th grade students gathered for their annual Disciple Now at FBC last weekend with their theme, AmazinGrace. This was my first time being a small group leader and I found out just what they meant by family, community and amazing grace.
I don’t want to share all that happened, because I believe you have to have your own experience of DNow to understand the experience I had and why it’s difficult to share. I’ve been in youth ministry for 12 plus years and when I thought youth couldn’t surprise me any more, this group left me speechless and my heart full of hope for who they are now, and who they will become.
The weekend was full of spirit, fun, laughter, study, prayer, sadness, joy, worship, and love. The youth fellowship at FBC Richmond consists of some remarkable and beautiful people, led by some beyond remarkable and “beautabulous” people. They have been through so much in the past few years and it shows in the maturity of their faith and understanding of their Christian journey. It also shows in their commitment to one another.
The congregation of youth and adults faced some sad news on Saturday afternoon, when they heard about one of their own’s passing. 17-year-old Kalena Porter passed away the night before after a courageous battle with a terminal illness. Just the week before, the youth had thrown her a surprise birthday party and this very morning, they recorded an anthem that the youth choir performed as a gift to Kalena.
As a chaplain, you do what you can to provide comfort and support to a family that is grieving. I’ve been a part of many moments like this, when a family finds out one of their loved ones died. But I was an outsider with this group. I hadn’t met Kalena, except through the words of those who shared her story. I hadn’t known the youth for that long either, so I wasn’t sure what they were going to experience. On this day though, my
heart was full of grace and tears at the moment when I turned around and saw the youth ministering to one another. This was a moment that will forever remain in my heart. You could hear a pin drop as the grief and love sunk into their hearts, quickly captured by their ministry family and community. Arms were around one another. Hands were held. Tears were shed. Prayers were spoken. There was an amazing grace surrounding them all, inside and out.
These youth have been through so much and they know how to be there for one another. It is a bit surprising given the fact many don’t see each other during the week, as their schools are spread out among the metro Richmond area. At the same time, I am not the least bit surprised by their focus on family and community because I know their ministers, who have taught and modeled for them what it means to be there for one another, to minister to one another, and to be the face of Christ in joy and in grief.
I’ve admired the previous Minister of Students, Lynn Turner, for years. (I don’t think she knows that, so don’t tell her.) She was the second woman minister I met and the first youth minister I wanted to emulate. However, I quickly realized I couldn’t be Lynn. God broke the mold with her. She built this youth ministry and has been through the good and bad to get them to where they are today. She is now the Senior Associate Pastor and I know she is breaking glass ceilings for all of us, as she serves in this role. I can’t be her, but I do admire her very much.
Now they have “new” leadership. While I was serving in Boston, Bart Dalton was called as Minister of Students and Ann Carter continues to serve in the Youth Associate Role with middle school. They’ve been together for a short time, but have quickly earned the respect and admiration from all the youth. Bart has come into his own and I can see why he was called to First Baptist. Many times I witnessed the youth go to Bart with their concerns, questions, hugs, and jokes. As a Youth Minister, it was beautiful to witness. You see the impact of God’s work happening, through Bart’s ministry here. Working with the middle school students, I saw and felt how much they love Ann and how much she loves them. Young adult leaders told me that Ann is their second mother. She is that loved. (Lest we not forget that they have killer roller skating skills on top of all of this!)
As I think about these three people, I completely understand how I witnessed family and community last weekend. Bart, Ann, and Lynn ministered to one another as they ministered to the youth. Youth ministered to one another because of what they learned from the three who stood before them. Unfortunately, I did not grow up in church or with a youth group, but if I could go back in time, I hope I could have gone to First Baptist. They know family. They know community. They know loss and they know life. They know what it means to be the face of Christ in the midst of grief and joy. They know what it means to accept God’s grace and share it with one another. In the church’s call to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, the youth made a stop in their own backyard last Saturday, when they ministered to one another. I got to see and feel it first hand. What a gift I will take with me, wherever I go. I will cherish it for a lifetime.