It's a new day at Greenfield Hill Congregational UCC in Fairfield, Conn.
"It's a pattern that we love to see," said the Rev. Alida Ward, church co-pastor. "We have several youths being confirmed this year who are the first ones in their family to join the church –– and the rest of the family has followed right behind them."
Those numbers are adding up quickly for the 1,000-member congregation –– for the first time, more than 40 youths will be confirmed this spring, said Ward.
"Some of the kids have been here since baptism," said Ward, "and some are newly arriving. A few years ago, we had about 20 being confirmed, then last year it was 27, and now 41 this year."
Ward, who has been at the church for 23 years, and the Rev. David Johnson Rowe have been co-pastors at Greenfield Hill since 2000. They have been wife and husband for the past year.
"We teach confirmation together, which is a lot of fun," said Ward. "I have primary responsibility for high-school and middle-school fellowship. This is my really my baby, and I'm lovin' it. The rest of church life is pretty much divided up evenly."
More than 230 youths are now involved in some facet of the church's mission, said Ward. "That includes youth from the community, not just church members. We're starting to see that extending to our confirmation program. A number of families have joined the church this year and gotten connected so their youth could be part of the confirmation program."
Ward said that with 1,000 members, there's never a dull moment. "You wake up every morning and wonder what's comin' down the road," she said with a laugh. What's coming down the road this summer for more than 150 teens and 60 adults from Greenfield Hill is a 15-hour trek to take part in the Appalachia Service Project.
"It's an awesome service organization based out of Johnson City, Tenn., that sends hundreds of church youth groups all over central Appalachia in an eight-week period," said Ward. "We are one of the largest groups they work with, and this will be our 35th annual trip through that organization. We have a long history with them and have benefited greatly by being associated with them."
"This very much honors the teens' abilities to do the work themselves," said Ward, who has been accompanying the group on the trip since 1989. "You don't tell kids to feel good about themselves –– you give them opportunities to do extraordinary things, and then they feel good about themselves."
Said Rowe, "I kind of stand back in awe as I look it, because I'm the pastor who stays behind. I'm there on Saturday morning waving goodbye to these 200 people on the buses."
Rowe praised the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) as a 60-year ministry that empowers young people, not only to assume leadership and responsibility, but also to embrace the families they help.
"Our people are not just a bunch of outsiders or tourists to the county," he said. "They really make an effort to understand the people they're helping and their community, culture, the local economics. Yet they also manage to keep faith front and center."
Rowe said members of Greenfield Hill now in their 40s still reflect on career and personal decisions that they directly link to an ASP experience –– "a family they met, a crew they were on, an evening devotional they heard."
The legacy continues today.
"Kids here are growing up yearning for the day when they reach their freshman year so they can make this trip," said Rowe. "They'll delay summer camp, summer jobs and sports programs. They schedule their summer around this trip."
Learn more about Greenfield Hill UCC. Find out more about the Appalachia Service Project.