A few days ago I was informed that I was tagged in a Facebook posting. The same kind of thing happens to millions of people every day who are registered on Facebook. Sometimes the postings are mundane or profane, but this one was deeper than that.
A few members of the first youth group I ever worked with scanned in a picture of their confirmation class from the spring of 1981 as well as a copy of the worship bulletin the morning the class joined the Church of the Master. I had only been at the church a few weeks and wasn’t in the picture, but my name was listed in the staff section. According to the bulletin, 357 people had attended worship the week before, and the offering had been $2,093.65 (not a large offering these days but it bought a lot more back then – my salary was $13,000.)
The real treasure wasn’t found in the bulletin but in the picture of thirteen 12 and 13 year olds who had just confessed their faith and become members of the church. As one of the guys (now in his mid-forties) wrote: “We mostly look like the middle school dorks that we were (but not the girls).” I was just shy of 25 years old when the picture was taken, and I didn’t feel that much older than the youth group members. That’s probably why the group was so fun and so successful.
John Deever, one of the group, described me as a “very tolerant, kind, generous, and trustable” youth pastor, but those adjectives more accurately describe the church that offered me my first position in ministry and allowed me to figure it all out. Many clergy denigrate youth ministry and many clergy also drop out of ministry after their first church leadership experience, but I received a renewed call to ministry while sharing a significant amount of experiences with the young men and women in that picture. What great people you were. We grew up together. Well, most of us anyway.
A few years after the picture was taken, many of us were together on a Habitat for Humanity mission trip in Baldwin, Michigan when we received word that one of the girls (who often went on these trips with us) was killed by a falling tree branch while peddling her bike home in a storm not far from the church. We were devastated and spent time trying to decide whether or not to just come home. The news had an extra element of grief because that young woman had already been through many struggles and finally things seemed to be headed her way. That evening one of the group pointed to a star in the sky and expressed his conviction that that star was our friend who had died.
To say much else would sound trite or maudlin, and I don’t want to be either. I am sure that members of the Church of the Master Confirmation Class of 1981 have had their share of joys as well as tragedies. Thirty-four years have a way of delivering their share of both. I salute those of you who have continued to support each other these many years, and I thank you for all you did for me.