Youth @ General Synod offering unforgettable UCC experiences
Written by Connie Larkman
April 11, 2013

Young people in the United Church of Christ attending General Synod in Long Beach, Calif., in late June will have three uniquely UCC ways for youth to become engaged in the biennial event. A "Youth Sing Out" choir experience, a "Youth Read" book discussion with one of the UCC's most popular authors, and a border immersion mission trip into Mexico with the staff of the Centro Romero offer youth great opportunities for deeper involvement in the life of the church.

"St. John's UCC in Boalsburg, Pa., is sending nine youth and five adults to Long Beach for Youth at General Synod [Y@GS]," said Pastor Monica Ouelette. "We are hoping this event will be a life changing opportunity for our youth, that it will help them develop a life-long love of the UCC and give them an opportunity to meet other UCC youth from around the country."

The Border Immersion Experience on Saturday, June 29, hosted by the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries in partnership with UCC's Centro Romero of San Ysidro, Calif., will meet both those objectives, according to a young woman who crossed from the United States into Mexico last fall on a CYYAM mission trip. "The border crossing is a great opportunity to experience the conditions of immigration firsthand," said Rachel Kirk, a member of the United Church of Gainesville in Gainesville, Fla. "It was striking to see how much more difficult it was to travel from the US to Mexico than the opposite way."

"Before the border immersion, I had studied Spanish in school but had never had the opportunity to travel outside of the U.S. This experience provided me with a brief opportunity to understand my study of another language as a way to communicate with people with lives very different from mine," Kirk said. "I loved having this experience under the security and guidance of Centro Romero staff and alongside my peers in the UCC. I knew that they, like me, understood the experience as more than just an interesting afternoon. For me, it personalized the issue of immigration in a way that political dialogue often ignores."

The border immersion is an all-day outreach of service and justice. Buses heading to Mexico will depart at 7 a.m. and return at 6 p.m. The trip includes lunch orientation and a dinner debrief. CYYAM members along with Centro Romero's director, the Rev. Carlos Correa, will co-lead the orientation and border immersion. Everyone is invited to participate as long as they have a passport. Persons under the age of 18 must be accompanied with an adult.

"The trip is very safe," Kirk stressed. "We only left the bus to have lunch in the park and tour a social service organization."

The Rev. Lillian Daniel

From the StillSpeaking Writers' Group, Daily Devotional writer and author the Rev. Lillian Daniel has agreed to facilitate the YouthRead, Sunday June 30, from 11 a.m. to noon. Her book, "Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church" (Jericho Press) will be the subject of discussion.

"Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me," says Daniel. "There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself."

Youth groups are encouraged to read the book together and come to General Synod prepared to engage a humorous, lively and spirit-filled dialogue that will also be interactive.

"Our senior pastor wanted our youth to experience the Synod experience," said Nancy Van Fleet, Christian education director of Naples (Fla.) United Church of Christ. "I will have 10 youth and 5 chaperones. I wanted to engage the youth in a deeper level so I plan to read Lillian's book with them in May and have two book club sessions [prior to Synod]."

"When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough" is No. 1 in humorous religious books and No. 5 in religion studies about spirituality on the Amazon best sellers charts. It has also been featured on the PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Daniel has agreed to a book signing after the discussion group, beginning at 12:30 p.m.

Youth looking to express their faith through song are invited to join the choir and participate in the Youth Sing Out.  Marissa Willson, a 14-year old who will be part of the St. John's UCC youth group at Synod, is looking forward to it.

"I want to (join Youth Sing Out) because it will be with different youth from across the country and an awesome experience," said Marissa. "I would be involved in something I love to do, at the same time with a bunch of other NEW people that love to do the same thing. I absolutely love to sing Christian songs because it makes me feel like I'm closer to God, and is my way of singing my praise and prayer to him."

Youth Sing Out will perform the UCC hymn "We Are All One" on Sunday, June 30, during worship, which begins at 3 p.m. Later that evening, the YSO choir will take the stage again as part of a Peace Concert and Forum at 7:30 p.m. The young singers will perform a selection of songs involving peace to bring healing in the land. The choir director, Lori Grace, serves as the Minister of Music with Refiner's Fire Fellowship United Church of Christ in Long Beach. She's enthusiastic working with the group, and has a message for those interested in the choir. "Sing Out 2013 -- let's heal the world with the message in our songs!"

For more information on these events, the Youth Sing out rehearsal times, the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries luncheon featuring Ms. Frenchie Davis, as well as other speakers and artists performing for Youth at General Synod, check the Y@GS page.

Register now for Youth @ General Synod. Discounted housing available through April 22.


Ms. Connie N. Larkman
Managing Editor & News Director
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115