Our goal in Jr. High formation hour is to introduce the overall story of the Bible and its themes. We strive to connect the biblical story to the experience of the Jr. Highers. This is the age at which students are making significant choices about the allegiances and alliances they will make – we try to spark their moral imagination and help them choose the way of Christ.
At least once a month the group gathers for an activity – a lock-in, a game night, a ropes course at camp…we try to give students a great experience of community within the church, to teach generosity and kindness with each other, and provide them with spaces for making good relationships with Christian adults who care about them. Playing together is a good avenue for all these things.
At various times through the year we offer opportunities for service, often with the expectation that children will be accompanied by their families. Past experiences have included serving breakfast at a homeless drop-in center, blazing new trails and cleaning up at a local camp, and cleaning up a river by way of canoe. No one said service couldn’t be a blast!
Every year we attend a winter camp featuring speakers, worship times, fun outdoor activities like tubing and snow football, and tons of time to just be together.
Every other year we attend Know Jesus, a summer weekend camp run by a partnership of Mennonite agencies. On alternating years we offer “Mustard Seed Camp,” usually a week-long afternoon camp designed to engage the students with various theological and biblical themes.
Our curriculum is designed to introduce students to the Christian faith through a variety of approaches. While we do emphasize study of the Bible and theology/doctrine, we also include units on discipleship and the history of the church. Recent units have included an overview of the entire Bible, a study on the Mission of God and holistic witness, a study of Christian approaches to world religions, and a unit on social justice using the prophet Amos as a background. We strive to have a variety of teachers throughout the year to bring a variety of perspectives to the conversation.
As a group we love to be together. This often takes the form of a formal gathering during the week where we share a meal and have a “talk” on some topic in Christian spirituality. But it also includes informal gatherings and outings, such as a minor league baseball game, frozen yogurt, pond hockey, and on and on. All of this is helps us grow in Christian love and experience the joy of Christian community.
We often gather together to grow as servants in the way of Christ. For instance, this past Lent students were invited to serve in various ministry capacities for the five Saturdays of March. Service opportunities included a participating in work day at the church, visiting a nursing care facility, serving breakfast at a homeless drop-in center, and helping move equipment at another homeless facility. We believe we are meant to be formed as servants, not just for a weekend or a week, but for our whole lives.
Nothing brings a group together like a weekend away together, and nothing opens us up to the movement of the Spirit like intentional time set apart for listening for God. And so we build it into our schedule! At least twice a year we try to “get away,” once at Winter Camp and once for Spring Retreat. These times feature a lot of time to just be together, as well as sessions for prayer, Bible study, talks on the spiritual life, and conversations about the way of Jesus.
If a weekend is good, then a whole week is even better! Every summer we take a trip together, usually over the Fourth of July week, to grow as disciples of Jesus. We alternate through a four-year cycle: 1) Service 2) Wilderness experience 3) Learning and Training 4) National Mennonite Church convention. This allows for a wide range of experiences utilizing various modes of learning as we seek to become more like Christ.
Students who are interested are invited to be a part of the SLC, giving input on the youth program, planning events, and serving as those who reach out to students to encourage participation.
Every student entering 7th grade selects a mentor from within the congregation, someone who will be with them until they graduate from high school. We encourage mentor pairs to be as active as their schedules allow. Our First Sunday youth-advocate breakfast provides one time per month when they are sure to see each other and connect. This breakfast includes a time for chatting and then a small program hitting on various themes in Christian spirituality, including sustainable living, reports from those doing service, and Baptism.