Youth Collectives: from Bend to Nebraska City

Youth Collectives: from Bend to Nebraska City May 20, 2016

At PYM16 Morgan Schmidt led a workshop on her work with the Bend Youth Collective. Greg Bolt is one of the co-founders of BYC and has recently brought this idea to a small town in Nebraska. Perhaps this innovative youth ministry idea is something you can try in your own context.

In the fall of 2010 a radical idea in youth ministry was born in Bend, Oregon.

This fall youth in Bend will take a radical step out in faith. Members of Nativity Lutheran, First Presbyterian, and Trinity Episcopal will follow the call from God to combine our gifts and skills to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. We seek to serve our community with energy, passion, thought and a whole lot of fun – together.

3 churches—1 community
3 traditions—1 faith
3 histories—1 future

Greg Bolt
Greg Bolt

That was the opening to the letter sent to the three churches; the team that led the transition was (now) Rev. Ron Werner, Rev. Greg Bolt, and Donna Burklo. Between the three of us we had several decades of experience working with youth in different formats, different contexts, and we found that our values and goals led us to this undertaking. It sounded unbelievable to others but when we talked about it, it seemed like a natural outpouring of how the Spirit had been working in our churches and in our community.

Inspired by the writings of Eboo Patel, we sought to provide a progressive expression of Christianity in the context of a place that was often called “the most unchurched county in the most unchurched state.”

In Bend, OR in 2010, there was a strong evangelical youth presence, a presence that fit a particular niche of people of faith. But with the youth that we worked with and encountered, there were a significant number of kids who were falling through the cracks. Whether they were questioning their faith, if they had any, if they identified as LGBTQ, if they just didn’t fit into the more entertainment-driven models of youth ministry, there didn’t seem to be a place for them. We hoped that the Bend Youth Collective could be that place.

We started our high school meetings at a local restaurant that also happened to be a new church development of the Presbyterian Church (USA) called Common Table. It provided us a third space and students from all three high schools, all three churches, and a wide swath of the community joined us. In our group, 30% of our students were people of color (in a town that is roughly 90% white), they were born in 7 different countries, we had documented and undocumented immigrants, athletes, band members, theater kids, those from affluent parts of town, and those who collected the food packs on Friday that we put together on Wednesday. We also did justice work…a lot of justice work.

Our goal was to connect faith to our students’ everyday lives. In the two years I was blessed to work with this group I believe we succeeded. We were able to see kids that would never even look at each other in the hallways become friends and disciples together. They were able to share their stories and tears. The Bend Youth Collective was and is a place for kids to see that the call from Christ—to love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself—is possible in this world that seems to only be looking out for number one.

In January of 2013, I took a new call as a solo pastor in Nebraska City, Nebraska, a small town on the banks of the Missouri River. The culture and context of rural Nebraska is very different than that of Central Oregon. Nebraska City is still in the throes of Christendom, although its hold on the culture is slowly losing its grip.

As I got to know the community and the culture, there seemed to be a similar need for a place for kids that didn’t resonate with the faithful expressions of their parents. This came to a head last year with 2 incidents that involved the violent deaths of two young people in our little town.

Photo by Nikki Carlson from the Nebraska City News-Press
Photo by Nikki Carlson from the Nebraska City News-Press

In the spring of 2016, First Presbyterian Church and First Evangelical Lutheran Church launched the Nebraska City Youth Collective with the help of an anti-bullying and anti-violence seed grant from United Against Violence. One of the things that we saw as a need in the community was a place for young people to come and to love one another, to be loved and to learn about being a community.

We—Sara Vesely, Youth & Family Ministries Coordinator at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, and I—want NCYC to provide a safe place for youth to address their questions about faith, life, why terrible things happen to good people and more, and to be another option as a place for them to turn to.

We’ve only had about 3 meetings as of the writing of this post, but in all of them we have had amazing, rich, and spirit-filled conversations. Right now, we are meeting in the local public library, twice a month. So far, we have been able to connect kids who might not have an opportunity to connect otherwise. We hope this is the beginning of many opportunities to grow in faith and grow in love, reminding one another that we are all in this together.

We’d love for you to connect with the Nebraska City Youth Collective, through Facebook or through Twitter. You can also email me or find me on my own blog (which I share with my pastor wife).

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