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Churches in two rural towns form one large youth group

By Jeannette Solimine

By cooperating to form one youth group, Endicott and St. John churches provide nearly half of youth attending the two-community middle and high schools with a large youth group experience.

The United Methodist Church in St. John has hosted an interdenominational youth group for eight years.

Endicott, with a population of 610, has the middle school, and, 13 miles away, St. John, with a population of 548, has the senior high school.  These farming communities are in the heart of the Palouse, south of Spokane and west of Highway 195.  

Founded at the beginning of the 20th century by predominantly German immigrants,
both communities have changed over the years, but some evidence of their German heritage still exists.

Wednesday evenings while school is in session, teenagers from Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic and Assembly of God churches meet.  Unchurched youth come, too. 

The average weekly attendance is 40 out of 88 students in two schools.

For six years, Marce and Bob Clements of Endicott have been youth group coordinators. Marce is secretary at the Colfax United Methodist Church, and Bob teaches at the high school in St. John.

Members of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pullman, they decided when their oldest son wanted to be a part of a youth group that Pullman, which is 40 miles away, was too far to go every Wednesday night. 

Six years ago, when two boys drowned at Rock Lake, Marce noticed that many youth were gathering at the United Methodist Church in St. John to comfort one another.  That began her family’s involvement with the youth group. 

When Dick Sheirman, the previous organizer, moved to Spokane, she and Bob agreed to be the leaders.

Marce said the formula for success is simple: 

• The first thing is to make everyone feel welcome.
“We are seeker-oriented,” she said.  “Everyone is welcome no matter where they are on the journey.” 

• The next thing to do is feed them.

Shelley Quinton, whose sophomore son is part of the group, volunteers in the kitchen.  Different parents provide dinner every week.  Shelley makes sure someone shows up every week to help serve and clean up.

After-dinner activities, lasting until 7:45 p.m., vary from week to week. 

After an icebreaker—usually a comedic game or skit to make everyone relaxed and laugh—the youth may divide up to watch videos, do a Bible study, hear guest speakers, have small group discussions or do arts and crafts. 

Although a variety of Christian music—rock and roll, hip-hop, rap and country—is played before dinner while people are arriving, they do no group singing. 

“Singing doesn’t work with them,” said Marce.

Discussions are on “hot topics of the day” for teens
.  She and Bob seek to make Christianity relevant to teens’ daily lives. 

Bible studies are discussion-oriented. Adults moderate rather than lecture, and they make sessions age appropriate so, for example,  seventh graders are not in the same room as seniors when talking about sex and abstinence.
Marce insists that youth group ends at 7:45 p.m., because she wants to make sure the youth have time to do their homework.  “I don’t want anyone not coming because they can’t finish their homework if they do come.”

She helps arrange transportation.  The sports bus brings Endicott teens to St. John.  Parents drive them home. 

“The youth group changes relationships,”
Marce said.  “Cliques are a normal part of school, but seem to disappear for 90 minutes, partly because we mix up the youth when they break into groups and partly because of the attitude and atmosphere of the group.

“Denominational differences rarely come up.  When differences of opinion and in faith come up, but the focus is what brings them together, not what separates them,” she explained.

“We make sure everyone knows they are welcome and matter. This is part of how we live and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Marce said.

Every week, the group closes by standing in a circle and saying the Lord’s Prayer together. 

“If teens don’t know the prayer, I have cards they can read from and then take home so they can learn it by heart if they want to,” she said.

Having nearly 50 teens and adults say the Lord’s Prayer together each week, said Marce, “is a powerful way to close and send them out into the world.”

For information, call 648-3743.

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - © April 2005