My youth group in Jr. High and High School was a very special group for me. The members of that group were my best friends and my primary social outlet. My church youth group nurtured my faith and shaped my development. It made sense to me that we would want to schedule a reunion of our youth group. I was part of a group that planned this event. We picked the years of 1979-1984, the years that Jim Gallery was our youth minister and Joe Morrell was our minister of music. We had no idea how many would come, but there were several of us that thought it might be fun.
While I thought it might be fun, I began to have some anxiety about it as well. As I have reflected on who I was during my high school years, I tend to remember myself as a self-righteous, judgemental, young fundamentalist. Years of growth and experience have broadened my perspectives to include a lot more acceptance of the unknown and the gray of life and to emphasize grace and love more than "getting it right." So, as I began to think about the youth reunion, I began to have fears that others would remember me the way that I did and not want to spend time with me. I did not know what to expect.
On Saturday afternoon, however, we gathered with our families at the park for play and visiting. As one person after another found me and hugged me and asked about my life, my fears began to disappear. It was great love , grace, and a sense of forgiveness that I felt. Even if others remembered me the way that I did, they were willing to get to know me now. It as very humbling for me. As we gathered for a dinner Saturday night, we shared memories, pictures, and bits of our lives since those days at Woodmont Baptist Church. For just a little while, years melted away and it was as if we were at a "Mid-Winter Youth Retreat" once again, sharing about our feelings and God's work in our lives. People laughed and cried, hugged, and talked. Though people looked a little different, this was the same group of friends I had so many years ago and once again, they embodied the love of God for me.
The final event was Sunday afternoon when we gathered for a worship service in the Chapel at Woodmont Baptist Church. Parents, families, friends, former youth workers joined together to worship. With an inordinate number of seminary graduates and pastors in the group, there was certainly a lot of experience to go around. We sang many of the old songs we sang as youth. We heard testimonies of friends who have lost parents, lost children, been divorced, been paralyzed, suffered near-death accidents and other life experiences. Then we were blessed by the sharing and reflections of my friend, Kevin Roberts (see previous blog post about Kevin). Kevin honored that time in our lives when our youth leaders tried to pour enough faith and love into us that when life happened to us, we would not lose all we had. Kevin talked about the toll life can take and difficulty to find God sometimes, but there is an anchor in the faith experience of our youth. I referred to it as the Jesus we have in friends, but it was a very special time. We completed the worship time by joining together again as a "youth choir" and singing one of our long remembered anthems. It was truly a moving experience.
So, while I had mixed feelings about being with this group, I was blessed once again to be in their midst. Our youth experience was an extraordinary time and it was good to remember those times once again. Each of us seems to have been seeking a similar experience for our own kids and I hope that we can continue to carry those memories and experiences through the years.