Angela S. Moyer, who is nearing completion of an MDiv from Eastern Mennonite Seminary, reflected on her experience of ministering to Allentown, Pa., children during a three-day, two-hour camp at a public playground in the summer of 2012. Angela came to the seminary with a background in pediatric occupational therapy and youth ministry. Her essay is also featured in the Eastern Mennonite Seminary-Pennsylvania electronic magazine.
Can valentines, freeze pops and a blessing cup be in God’s Kingdom? I am hopeful that these things will be remembered as seeds of Jesus’ love that were planted with the children and youth in downtown Allentown, Pa.
A component of my seminary journey at Eastern Mennonite Seminary-PA was practicing and reflecting on my leadership skills within the mission of God’s Kingdom. I was given the opportunity to develop my leadership skills and mission interests at Ripple-Allentown.
Allentown, Pa. is a classic example of a post-Christian, urban context. What ministry and the Church look like in this context is emerging and the topic of many current articles and books. But one of my questions all throughout seminary has been, ‘What about the kids?’ ‘What do we teach them during this seismic shift?’
The ways of the Church have changed in significant ways since I was a kid, but I have seen and read about few changes in ministry with children and youth. My background in pediatric occupational therapy and as a youth pastor would not let my questions about children and youth subside. Do we really have good news if we have nothing to pass on to our children and youth but a bunch of critiques, complaints, apathy, and anxiety? And if our good news has no meaning in their world, is it really the good news of Christ? Insert fair trade chocolate valentines, freeze pops and a blessing cup.
As I sat on a front porch watching the Allen High School students walk home from school, I prayed for God to show me “Christ’s good news” in this setting. What does the freedom, liberation, and healing that Jesus declared in Luke 4 look like in the multi-ethnic, lower income, violence ridden, urban setting of downtown Allentown?
I was humbled as I thought about the systemic injustices that were offering them only a glimmer of hope for their futures. And then I heard God whisper a reminder about Christ’s love for them. The upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday seemed an appropriate opportunity to introduce or remind them of the deeper and truer love of God than what a fleeting high school romantic relationship offers. So we handed out chocolate valentines with heart shaped post-it notes that read, ‘You are loved by God.’ And I put trust in the parables of the mustard seed and yeast in Matthew 13.
On the last day of school, I wrote ‘May Christ’s peace and love be with you’ on freeze pops and handed them out after finals were completed. Despite the rainy 50 degree weather, we celebrated the end of the school year with freeze pops —after all, there is only one last day of school. A few youth told me they remembered the valentines. And I prayed and remembered the parables of the mustard seed and yeast.
The following week, we held a three-day, two-hour kid’s camp at the local playground. We played cooperative games with a parachute, painted, colored, got dirty with bubbles and sidewalk chalk, and did our best to demonstrate Christ’s peace and love while playing with these precious children. Each night after a short story or object lesson, we practiced a blessing cup ritual. The first evening we recited, ‘The spirit of Christ brings second chances” as each child had a turn with the blessing cup. “The spirit of Christ brings life out of death” was repeated the second evening, and we closed with, “The spirit of Christ brings peace between enemies” the final evening.
What is success? What was accomplished? Where was God’s Spirit? What did I learn? More than what I have space to reflect on in this post, for sure. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Is this just the tip of the iceberg? For sure, but I will close with my hope that seeds were planted in the lives of these children and youth for the Kingdom of God.
My journey to follow the Spirit of Christ, improve my leadership skills, and live out my calling for God’s Kingdom in Allentown has deepened my surrender and humility before God. And yet, God continually says, ‘Go. Even before you have all the answers, go.’ And so in faith, trust, and hope, I continue to go. And I find hope and strength in the parables of the mustard seed and yeast. I think leadership and mission in God’s Kingdom may continue to look as random but yet as clear as chocolate valentines, freeze pops and a blessing cup.
May the Spirit of Christ continue to be revealed in Allentown.