I walked toward the church and entered the fellowship hall building, which was called The Lamp. The building was quiet and empty, much different from Sunday mornings when 20/20, the college Sunday school class, met here. A small group of people around my age sat in a circle near the middle of the group, reading what appeared to be copies of the same paper. I recognized most, but not all, of the people in the circle from the college group.
“Greg! You made it!” Taylor Santiago called out from the circle, motioning me over.
“Yeah,” I said. “So what do I need to do?”
“Just hang out. After everyone gets here, we’re going to go over the plan for the night.”
I sat in the circle in between Taylor and a girl with bushy light brown hair whom I did not know. Taylor handed me my own copy of the paper; it said THE EDGE, 2/5/97 at the top. Below this was a schedule for the night, along with a discussion outline for small groups at the end of the night, and a list of which students would be with which leaders in these small groups. I noticed that one group was listed as “Taylor/Greg,” and that this group included Ted, Zac, and Danny, the three students whom I knew. Taylor had told whomever made this schedule that I would be coming tonight.
“How’s it going, Taylor?” Noah Snyder asked. I knew Noah from the college group; he and Taylor had been friends since their early teens, before they both came to the University of Jeromeville. I had also seen his name in the church bulletin with the title “junior high intern”; I thought that meant that he actually got paid part time to have a leadership role with The Edge, the group for junior high school students here at Jeromeville Covenant Church.
“I’m doing okay,” I said. I was vaguely aware that someone else entered the room during our conversation, but I did not pay attention until I heard a familiar female voice say, “Greg?”
I looked up and saw a girl with straight dark blonde hair standing next to her boyfriend, a stocky, muscular guy a little bit shorter than her. “Hey, Abby,” I said. “Josh.”
“Greg? Are you gonna be an Edge leader?” Josh asked.
“Maybe,” I replied. “I’m checking it out. I might be taking Taylor’s spot when he leaves spring quarter.”
“Well, I hope you enjoy it!”
“It’s so much fun!” Abby added.
Across from me in the circle was a tall guy who looked older than me, maybe around twenty-five. He had short, almost buzzed hair, and a toothy grin; I knew from having been around J-Cov the last four months that this was Adam White, the youth pastor. “You two know each other?” Adam asked when he saw Josh talking to me.
“Yeah,” I said, although the fact that Josh lived under the same roof as me, and I had no idea that he was an Edge leader, made me wonder if I really knew him at all. I did not say this, though, because I really did feel bad that I did not know this. I did not know that Abby was an Edge leader either, and I had known her even longer than Josh. “He’s my roommate.”
“That roommate you never see who works weird hours?” Taylor asked. “That’s Josh?”
“I never knew that!”
A few minutes later, after everyone had arrived, Noah gathered us to begin the night. “We have a new leader,” he said. “Greg, why don’t you introduce yourself?”
“I’m Greg,” I said. “I’m a junior, a math major. I’ve been going to J-Cov and 20/20 since October. But I know a lot of you from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, and Taylor was in my dorm freshman year. Three boys from The Edge decided they wanted to hang out with me a few weeks ago after church, so I’ve been getting to know them. Taylor told me about how he’s going away for six months, and since I’ve been hanging out with those boys, he asked if I’d be interested in trying out The Edge and taking over his small group for the rest of the year.”
“So they just decided they wanted to hang out with you?” Noah asked. “Who are they?”
“Ted Hunter, and Zac, and Danny,” I said. “I don’t know the others’ last names.”
“Danny Foster,” the bushy-haired girl next to me said. “That’s my brother.”
“That’s hilarious that the kids just went out and found you to be their leader,” Adam said. “I’m Adam. I’m the youth pastor. Who else here do you know?”
I looked around the circle, pointing at people. “Taylor, Noah, Martin, Courtney,” I said. “Abby and Josh. And James,” I added, purposely not calling him Barefoot James to his face. I knew these people either from rom JCF or 20/20, or both, but some of them I did not know were Edge leaders. The others introduced themselves next; Danny Foster’s sister was named Erica. A scruffy-looking guy I had seen at 20/20 but did not know was named Brody, and a girl with long dark hair was named Kate. Finally, a girl with short, chin-length blonde hair introduced herself as Charlotte; I had never seen her before.
“Nice to meet you guys,” I replied.
Noah then discussed the plan for the rest of the night, and when we finished this, he asked if there were any prayer requests. “I have one,” I said. “Pray that I will seek God’s will for my life, that I’ll know if working with The Edge is part of it.”
“That’s a good one. Anyone else?”
Each person in the circle shared a prayer request. Some were specific, like Taylor’s upcoming mission trip, Charlotte’s midterm, and Kate’s sick uncle; others just asked to thank God for a good week. We each then took turns praying for the person on our left. When my turn came, I said, “God, I thank you that Taylor has this opportunity to go to Chicago, to serve you. I pray that all of those around him will see your love and your message of salvation through his actions and his attitude. I pray that you will bless him with safe travel, and a good adjustment to a new living situation.”
After everyone finished praying we all looked back up. “Go love those kids!” Noah said in a way that suggested that he said this every week at this point.
“So what do I do now?” I asked Noah.
“Just hang out. It starts at 7, but kids will gradually trickle in, and we’ll do announcements at 7:15. If kids ask you who you are, just tell them.”
Over the next twenty minutes, the room gradually filled with twelve- through fourteen-year-olds of all shapes and sizes. Of the boys I knew, Ted was the first to arrive. “Greg!” he shouted when he saw me. “You’re here!”
“I know! And I’m going to be in your small group with Taylor.”
“Great!” Ted saw Danny walk in and motioned for him to come over. “Danny!” Ted exclaimed. “Look! Greg’s here!”
Zac arrived a minute later, and the boys moved on to do something else a minute after that. I walked around, trying to take in the atmosphere. Music that I did not recognize played on the speakers, something that sounded like the typical girl-rock of that era, but this singer had a distinct voice, a little bit like that girl from the Cranberries, but not really. The lyrics, and the fact that we were at church, made me think this was a Christian singer.
“Who is this singing?” I asked Taylor.
“Sarah Masen,” he answered. Yeah, I did not know that one. Working with The Edge, I learned quickly that there were many, many Christian singers and bands that I did not know.
“Are you a new leader?” I heard a voice say next to me. I turned and saw a small girl with blue eyes and brown hair looking up at me.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m just checking it out for now.”
“Yeah,” I chucked. “I know.”
“What’s your name?”
“It’s nice to meet you,” I said.
At 7:15, Adam called everyone to attention, speaking through a microphone. Around forty students were in attendance. “Is there anyone new here tonight?” he asked. Two students walked up to the stage. I saw Taylor motioning for me to follow them, so I did.
After Adam introduced the new students, he came to me. “Greg, what’s your name?” he asked. He had done this for the new students as well, using their names while asking for their names, and the first time, students laughed at this.
“Greg,” I said.
“Where do you go to school?”
“University of Jeromeville,” I answered. When the new students named their schools, students from that school cheered, but for me, everyone cheered for UJ.
Adam asked the new students a silly would-you-rather question next, and I was no exception. “Would you rather wear shorts in freezing weather or long pants in hot weather?”
“Neither,” I said. “But if I had to pick, probably long pants in hot weather.”
“Everyone, welcome Greg!” The students cheered for me again.. When the room got quiet, Adam said that it was time to play a game. “Tonight, we are going to have a giant rock-paper-scissors tournament!” Some of the students made excited cheers, while a few groaned in disappointment. “You just walk to someone, count one-two-three, and then make the sign for rock, paper, or scissors.” Adam demonstrated the three hand signs, a fist for rock, all the fingers lying flat next to each other for paper, and two fingers extended for scissors. “Rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock. If you lose, go to the back of the room. If you win, find someone else who won, and play again. We’ll keep playing until there are only two people left, and the winner of that final game gets…” Adam trailed off as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the grand prize. “A five dollar gift card to Lucky!” During our meeting earlier, I wondered aloud if students would really be motivated by a grocery store gift card; Noah assured me that, to junior high schoolers, the thought of being able to spend five dollars on junk food was major excitement. The reaction from the crowd when Adam showed them the gift card confirmed Noah’s statement.
A few minutes of mass chaos ensued as students ran off to find opponents. As a leader, my job was to watch for students who had lost and were trying to jump back into the game. I noticed one, and when I told him to go sit in the back, he refused, but he lost his next match anyway. Finally, the group had been winnowed to two: Ted Hunter and a girl named Shawna. The rest of the students had gathered around either Ted or Shawna, with most of the boys cheering for Ted and most of the girls cheering for Shawna.
“Here we go,” Adam announced. “This is the final game, Ted versus Shawna. Ready? One, two, three!” Ted placed his hand in the rock position, and Shawna chose paper. Paper covers rock. Shawna made an excited exclamation, and her supporters cheered wildly as Adam presented her with the grocery store gift card.
Courtney and Brody took the stage next for announcements, most of which involved the upcoming Winter Camp. A week from Friday, many of the students would be traveling up to the mountains for the weekend. In addition to fun activities and Bible lessons, some of the students would visit a nearby ski resort on one of the days, with everyone else staying behind to play in the snow. In this part of the United States, only high elevations got snow, and most of the population lived in low-lying valleys. I did not travel to snow regularly growing up, and I had only seen snow three times. Winter Camp sounded like fun; maybe if I was still volunteering with The Edge a year from now, I would go to Winter Camp.
Adam brought a guitar on stage next for worship, and Abby joined him, along with Courtney and Brody who were already there. The first worship song was one that I did not recognize; it sounded much more like a children’s song than the worship songs we sang in the college group or at JCF. Courtney and Abby got on stage to lead the students through hand motions during the refrain of the song. Many of the students got excited to do the hand motions. Personally, I thought the hand motions were dumb. I stood in the back and sang without doing the hand motions. I had never spent time around Christian youth group kids, so it was surprising to me that these students enjoyed the hand motions and did not find them corny and distracting, like me. I was glad that they were having fun, though.
After the third song, Adam stayed on the stage, alone, with the microphone. “How many of you have ever experienced getting picked last for a team?” A few hands went up. “How many of you always get picked first?” A few other hands went up, with murmurs of arguments from some who seemed to disagree with those students’ assessments of themselves. Adam then read from the First Book of Samuel about God sending Samuel to Jesse of Bethlehem, to choose a King of Israel from among Jesse’s sons. Samuel saw seven good-looking young men pass by, but God instead chose David, the youngest, who had not been invited to meet Samuel.
Adam then read names of students and told them which small group they were in. I assumed that someone adjusted the list as students were arriving, since the boys Taylor and I got did not exactly match the list I received at the beginning of the night.
Taylor and I walked with Ted, Danny, Zac, and three other boys to one of the children’s Sunday school rooms, in another building closer to the parking lot. The boys sat in small child-size chairs around a table, and Taylor sat in an adult-size chair, facing them. I could not find another adult chair, so I sat uncomfortably in a child chair next to Taylor.
“Have any of you ever been picked last for something?” Taylor asked.
“I hate when they have students pick teams like that,” Zac replied. “One time, in, like, fourth grade, we were playing basketball in PE, and I got picked last But I ended up scoring the winning basket. It was awesome. It was my only basket too.”
“Was that the game where you accidentally tripped Jonathan?” one of the other boys asked.
“Yeah! And he got a bloody nose!”
“Why do you think David’s dad didn’t ask him to come meet Samuel?” Taylor asked.
Zac, whose Bible was actually open, said, “Because the rest of his family probably thought there’s no way he would be the king.”
“Yeah. Pretty much. David was the youngest. They just thought he was only good for feeding the sheep. But what did God see in him?”
None of the boys said anything, so I decided to jump in with a hint. “It’s right there in the Bible passage we were reading.”
“The Lord looks at the heart!” Danny exclaimed excitedly, pointing at those words in his Bible.
“Good! Now turn near the back of the Bible, to First Timothy 4:12. Does anyone want to read?” Taylor asked.
Zac and Ted argued over who would read, then they began reading together. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.”
“Paul wrote this to Timothy, but he could have written it to you,” Taylor explained. “Just because you are young, it doesn’t mean you can’t influence the world around you for Jesus.
King David was young too, and he led the nation of Israel and wrote a bunch of the Psalms.”
The small group met for a total of about twenty minutes. We discussed more about God looking at what is on the inside, and young people making a difference for Christ. We got more distracted as the night went on. Taylor asked me at the end of the small group time if I would close the night in prayer. I was not prepared for this, but I figured I could easily wing it.
“Jesus,” I said. “Thank you for this opportunity to be a leader with The Edge. Thank you for all of the wonderful students I met tonight. I pray that all of us will realize that, even though we are young, we still have a role to play in the Kingdom of God. I pray that we will remember this as we go through the week. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”
The students and leaders mingled in the fellowship hall after small groups finished. Parents came to pick up students, and when the crowd had thinned significantly, we began putting things back in closets and cleaning the fellowship hall.
“So what did you think?” Courtney asked me as we moved a folding table to a closet. “Are you gonna come back next week?”
“Yeah!” I said. “This was a lot of fun!”
“Good!” she replied.
The events of the night replayed in my mind as I drove home, around nine o’clock, and as I worked on math homework for the rest of the night until bedtime. If The Edge became a permanent activity for me, I would not have time to be a Bible study leader with JCF, as I had thought about doing over the last couple months. But maybe that was a good thing. Maybe God wanted me here, working with junior high school students and this friendly group of youth leaders at J-Cov, instead of navigating the cliques that seemed to dominate JCF.
Since Jeromeville is a university town, many students spend all of their time there interacting almost exclusively with people affiliated with the university. But when I went to church the following Sunday, I realized that I recognized some of the students from The Edge at church. Danny and Ted sat next to me, and as I was leaving, I saw Samantha, who told me again that I was tall. I reminded her that she had just told me this on Tuesday, and she replied, “I know. I’m just in awe of your height.” I smiled. At six-foot-four, I towered over this petite young teen by more than a foot, so I guess that was pretty impressive to her. If Samantha wanted to remember me as the tall guy, that was fine with me. Certainly I could have been remembered for something worse.
I was looking forward to being a leader with The Edge for the rest of the school year, and possibly for longer after that. I had only been attending Jeromeville Covenant for four months, and I was already making connections beyond the college group, on the other side of Jeromeville not associated with the university. J-Cov was starting to feel like my new home.
Readers: Are you, or were you ever, part of a church youth group? Or any other type of youth group? What was your favorite thing about your youth group? Tell me in the comments.