Keeping Our Young People in Church

Keeping our teens in the church is no easy task.  Throw in what you know about contemporary culture and the Prince of this World and the task seems insurmountable.  Our culture and the evil one  seek to draw in and shred our young people, stealing their faith and their moral compass and then using them to perpetuate the cycle.  Popular culture is attractive and very few of us want to go or are able to go completely against the trend of current attitudes, entertainment and thought.

The Orthodox Christian Church is counter culture.  What do I mean by that?  In as much as the culture does not reflect the church, it is opposed to it.  Even if our kids are running in Christian circles, the Orthodox life is very dissimilar.  Consider these examples:  If you are an Orthodox Christian, you are in church on Sunday mornings…and counter to even other Christian churches, you are in church on Saturday evenings for Vespers.  You  don’t drink coffee and have pancakes on Sunday mornings before Liturgy because you are fasting before receiving the Eucharist.  You aren’t eating meat on Fridays because you are fasting as part of a Christian lifestyle.   You are in church most evenings during Holy Week!  You get married inside a church with a priest.  You make it a priority to get married before you live with your mate.  The list could go on and on!

The point is:  Being an Orthodox Christian can be challenging for anyone in our modern age.  For teens, it’s even harder.  If  the typical American Christian teenager is like a trout swimming upstream, then the American Orthodox teenager is like the rare golden trout found only in rivers above 10,000 feet!  No wonder a recent study indicates that teens and college aged adults are leaving the Orthodox Church and the Christian faith in vast numbers.  According to The Pew Research Center’s recent study on behaviors, values and opinions of the teens and twenty-somethings that make up the Millennial generation:  “nearly one-in-five adults under age 30 say they were raised in a religion but are now unaffiliated with any particular faith.”  (http://www.pewforum.org/2010/02/17/religion-among-the-millennials/)

These facts are daunting.  How am I to raise my kids so that they know Jesus?  How am I to prepare them for the cultural war?   How do we, collectively as a church, keep our young people engaged in matters of faith?

I have struggled with these and many more issues.  Raising five kids who will desire to follow in faith the Lord Jesus…that is the heart of my efforts.

I would like to tell you I have figured this out.  I would also like to tell you we have a formula that you can just follow and your kids will all stay in church for the rest of their lives.  But, I cannot.   What I can tell you is that we pray a lot.  We go to church a lot with our kids.  We talk a lot at the dinner table.

I hold onto this piece of scripture:  “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6

In this series, I am going to spotlight places where I see teens and young people staying connected in the church.  Hopefully, these examples will encourage us in our longing to keep our youth in the cradle of faith.

tonsuring

 

The Wallet

 

“My escape is to just get in a boat and disappear on the water. ” Carl Hiaasen

Boys of all ages and shapes love the freedom and excitement of a boat ride on a full lake in May.  There is a freedom on the water.  Hair blowing, sunglasses on, the smell of gasoline…all is well at the beginning of summer.

Just a couple of months after my son turned 16, he and a school friend were out on the upper Lake Hartwell in our little blue skiff enjoying those first days of summer break.  Of course, these radiant waters, like the sirens to the Greek sailors of yore, were calling my teen boys to test the parameters of the new Yamaha engine we had just installed.  They had to make and crest waves.  They had to turn donuts.  And, they had to push the ability of the small craft to stay afloat amidst a variety of maneuvers mixed with speed and wind.   Ultimately, what happened next was quite predictable.  They flipped the boat and swamped all the contents.  Paddles and jackets and half consumed water bottles could be seen floating along with a plastic bag and briefly, a hat.  Although stunned, the big boys weren’t injured and were able to right the small boat and return home.

As the adrenaline wore off,  the teens began to work through all the things that were in the boat just minutes before it went asunder.  There were water bottles, food packages, fishing poles and tackle, sunglasses, wallets, and cell phones.

“Oh no!  My wallet was in my pocket!” was the gasp I heard.  “All the gift cards I got from my birthday were in the wallet.”

“Did you have cash in there?”  his dad inquired.

“Maybe $5 – $10 bucks,” was the assessment.

For months, stories were told of the perilous incident.  Various theories surfaced of how the boat flipped, where it happened, and why the boys were able to right the craft.   Everybody  was profoundly grateful that the boys were safe and that the whole business only amounted to  some lost items.  We were thankful God had spared them from their own bad judgments.

And…just as quickly as that fantastic summer-freedom feeling came, it went.  Like the release of water from Hartwell Dam on a sweltering August day, those carefree times were gone.  Summers, Christmases, proms and graduations whirled by in a fast current of ceaseless days.

Then, on a recent December afternoon, a package arrived at our non lake house.   The padded manila envelope was addressed to my oldest, now almost 22.  Home for the holiday, he found the package and opened it.

“Ya’ll come here and see this!” was the call.  The family gathered ’round our kitchen counter while he emptied the contents onto the flat surface.

What took place next was truly astonishing.  Carefully, and with great curiosity, my son opened a flat and dingy rectangular object.  We all stood there gazing, and upon closer inspection, realized what it was!!  A smile of recognition came to my boy’s lips.

“This is my wallet!”  he blasted.  “This is the wallet I lost when we flipped the skiff.”

Sure enough!  It was the wallet of a 16 year old boy, a perfect time capsule of a by-gone era.  The wallet, lost by a boy, was now opened by a man!  The case itself was constructed of grey duct tape.  The contents, although water battered,  were undisturbed:  gift cards, a driver’s license and a library card.  The remnants of a heavily water tattered $5 and $1 bill were displayed along with a few tarnished coins.  And, there was a note.  The note told of how the young finder had seen the wallet near the boat ramp on GA 123 in Toccoa, GA.  She collected the wallet and intended to return it to its owner, but, as often happens, time got the better deal and it ended up in the top drawer of a dresser.  The writer of the note, finding the wallet one morning and realizing it had not been returned, mailed it to my son along with a little sticky note affixed inside:  “Looks like you had a $1 and a $5 in the wallet — Thought I would replace that for you.  Cherish the memory!”

 

I was at a loss for words, which is unusual!  What a kind and generous thing to do, return a water-logged, trashed duct-taped wallet to a kid you will likely never meet!!

While my son was contemplating the gift cards, I was struck by the generosity of a person I will never be able to thank!  A person who took the time to be kind!  That can be a rare thing.  But, people are good!  Lake people are good and I will cherish the memory.

We Got the Grad!

There’s a lot of hype associated with getting that perfect graduation picture.   You know, that intense feeling that you need a perfect memory of you with your first born child wearing  his college regalia right after the ceremony.   Throw in some traditions like, “your grandfather had his picture taken from this very spot” or “all graduates take their pictures by the this campus feature” and you have the perfect storm.

It was the morning after my son’s graduation.   All smiles, we approached the quintessential grad photo location on Florida State’s palm studded campus:  Westcott Fountain.   Dozens of happy parents and students were waiting for their “moment” to take a picture with their grad in front of the historic fountain.  Both my husband and I had our pictures taken here some 30 years before.   Of course we would wait forty five minutes in the heat for our perfect picture moment.  This was “what you did!”

IMG_8638

There was plenty of joking and playing around while we waited.  It was a glorious day; that North Florida heat was beating down on the bald and the young.

peake & chase

IMG_8647 (2)

regina & peake

getting a photo

I nervously tinkered with my aged camera, checking out my lenses in the sun, working my filters.

Finally, we were up.  I told the folks behind us, ” We may be a minute. There are quite a few of us.”  The group behind us looked at their watches, “No problem.  We’ll give you a couple of minutes.”

Yikes!  A couple of minutes to get four grandparents, five kids, an uncle and a best friend into a picture, all looking the right direction, all in focus, all smiling.  This is going to be fun.

grad in the sun

riley w grad

wait i dropped it

First, we got the graduate.  That was easy, a few lens changes and the lighting was fine.  Then more joined.  Finally, we got the whole bunch and had the best friend take the family group shot.  Whew!  What a relief!

We can use these for our Christmas picture…what a great looking family…so proud of our graduate…isn’t she a neat mom with her camera set up… you go girl…now we can get out of the heat…isn’t that lady together! These thoughts and more went through my mind.

By now, we had been moved off to the side for the next group’s time in the sun.

“Momma Naz,” I heard Chase say.  “I think I got some good pictures.”

“Thank you for taking ’em!” was my reply.

“I didn’t happen to hear a shutter click though.  You must have a really quiet camera,” he added.

“What?” my hyped-mamma, camera ears heard the words you never want to hear.

“There was no click? What do you mean you didn’t hear the shutter?”  I ran over, grabbed the camera and scrolled to the most recent shot.  There were no family pictures.  No pictures with grandparents.  No picture with my Uncle who had driven up from Port Richey.  No Christmas card shot!  My heart sunk.  Chase had taken the cell pictures first and, after the delay,  the camera had automatically shut off!

discussion

Ugggg! What are we going to do now?   I had to think fast.

The older family members were melting.  Tempers were flaring.

“Well get ’em off the cell phone,” said the graduate.

The grandparents and the favorite uncle left.

Tears were starting to come.

“NO!!”  I suddenly felt like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!  We would get that damn picture.

harder than we thought

enough

I took a side angle of our group in front of the camera hoping no one would get too upset with us.  I prepped Chase on how to turn on a camera.

Round two was shot, with mostly smiles but a few growls.  I ran to the camera.  Better to check just in case.    The horror!  Every frame was blurry!!

blurry

“Let’s get out of here!” was the agitated command from the rear.   The graduate gave an evil eye.

“NO!”  Clark Griswold snapped again.  We will do this!   I prepped Chase on how NOT to turn the camera to manual focus.  “Keep it on AutoFocus,” I barked.

Round three. Half grunts, twisted lips and mangled brows, but we got it in focus.  Strangely, I felt vindicated, like someone had done me some wrong and now we were even.  Maybe it was my sun-baked brain telling me that taking pictures is my only important role in the world.

The truth is, no one did me wrong and I’m not a great photographer.   I just got too hyped up about getting some stupid graduation photos.  And, of course, Murphy’s Law kicked in to remind me that my priorities were all wrong.

Of course, there are more important things!  We got the grad!  Whether I captured a decent picture or not, he’s still a grad. He finished it and I am so proud of him!

family with grad

peake mom &