Contemporary worship music softly fills the room on Wednesday nights as youth gradually bring the Youth Center at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration to life. Some come, after a long day of school, to decompress and rest. Others come energized, ready to laugh with friends.
Crossover, a weekday youth program, is designed to be a safe and open space for kids. The night starts out with time to amble free through the room—to play games, to catch up after a week apart, to sit and meditate in anticipation for worship. Bram, an 11-year-old, captures the mood as a steady flow of kids walk through the Youth Center doors. “It’s fun! We get to see our friends and spend time relaxing and being ourselves.”
Dana Jean joined the church staff earlier in 2019 as the Youth Director. “Having their own space is really important to them,” she says. “They come in these doors knowing that they are entering a warm place, one that is their own, one where they can be individuals and yet are bound together as a group.”
It’s apparent within minutes that this is a place, perhaps one of the only places, where the youth are able to let go of any expectations by society of who they are supposed to be. It’s a holy place. A place where students can bring their joys and celebrations along with their frustrations, grief, and troubles to lay them down before each other and God. “I come sometimes feeling bad and sometimes feeling good,” says a bright-eyed 11-year-old named Jack. “It’s my time to spend with friends and to spend time with God.”
The youth play a vital role in deciding the direction of their two semesters together each year. Their Youth Council—a group of nine students—come together to help decide outreach projects and other aspects of the program, providing input and feedback to shape the program itself. In addition to the officers, students volunteer to serve as outreach coordinator, fellowship coordinator, youth chaplain and publicity chair.
“They are encouraged and enabled to use their abilities and passions to lead everything from lighthearted fellowship opportunities to impactful projects that reach out to our neighbors near and far,” says Dana Jean.
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After a time of games and casual conversation, the youth sit down at a long table to intentionally spend time in fellowship over a meal. Then something unusual for kids their age: they begin cleaning up, taking ownership of their space, insuring that the table is wiped down and that everything is returned to the way they found it.”
As everyone settles in, quiet ensues before a prayer is offered—a supplication inviting the Holy Spirit to prepare their hearts and minds for worship.
Worship here shares similarities with the Sunday Eucharist, but it’s also markedly different, influenced heavily by the kids’ individual and communal personalities. Austin Cope, leading worship at the front of the room, starts in on their first praise song, a traditional hymn set to contemporary music.
“When I am leading these kids in worship, we are all in a single moment together trying to achieve the same thing: glorifying God. Whether that’s simply through their presence, or through singing, or meditation in this beautiful moment,” Austin says. “I watch them come through those doors from the world and rest together, recharge together, and nurture their spirits.”
The chalice, paten, candles, cross, and Bible at the front of the room remind the youth why they have come. It leads them to reflect and become more worshipful in what feels like their own little chapel.
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After a final song is sung and a prayer is said, the youth split into classrooms. “What we talk about and learn here, I feel is a good conversation where we hear everyone’s views in a safe and open place,” says a ninth-grader named Katelyn as she settles in. “The personal growth I get out of our conversations sinks in and I can share that with the wider world in small ways.”
The youth’s focus this year, set by the youth council after a brainstorming retreat, is impressive: breaking down walls. When asked why they chose such an ambitious theme, the students said they realized that barriers in our society cause pain and violence. Asked what breaking down walls means to them, the overwhelming consensus focused on making sure the Fig remains a place open to people from all walks of life and that the world becomes a more affirming and loving place.
“By helping each other and respecting each other we can grow closer together and be nicer toward all people,” responded 12-year-old Libby when asked why she is passionate about breaking down walls.
Their commitment to changing the world around them is palpable. With determination, they insist that they, with or without adult support, intend to change the world by removing one brick at a time from the walls that divide us.
“With a lot of hard work,” 12-year-old Nathaniel says with determination in his eyes. “We can change the world and make it a better place with one act of kindness at a time.”
Written by Judson Watkins, Director of Communications. Photos by Dana Jean.
Judson joined the staff at Transfiguration in July 2019 after serving as Communications Director at First Presbyterian Church of Dallas and prior to that Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church. A member of Transfiguration since 2003, he has served on the Outreach Committee and as a Eucharistic Visitor. Judson grew up in Bullard and New Salem, (East) Texas. He majored in religion and minored in communications at Lon Morris College and later at the University of Texas at Tyler. When the weather is nice, he likes to go hiking, climb mountains, paddle in a kayak or play in the yard with his two dogs, Liza and Millie. You can Judson by email.