There is a Facebook group which always makes me laugh as I realize I am not alone trying to understand the many lessons which fall in the category of “Things They Didn’t Teach Us in Seminary.” When I reflect on the last ten months of my job, I can add interior design to that very long list which as been created through the group of the same name.
My congregation recently moved into a brand new education building which has been both very exciting and very stressful. Thankfully, I was not involved in the original planning and architecture design because figuring out which area rugs and paintings will go into my classrooms was challenge enough! On the flip side, somewhere along the way it was decided that fresh white walls wasn’t challenge enough either…
Standing in the middle of a framed building and imagining what it would be like with walls and people, I realized that the original plan for the youth just wasn’t going to work. The youth ministry had outgrown the space since the original design was created and the energy would break down the walls. After several conversations, measurements, and digging deep for everything I had learned while watching home design shows on Saturday mornings, it was decided that the best idea was to move the youth into the current nursery and preschool space (which would be moving into the new building).
No exegesis or Presbyterian Polity class can prepare you for how to transform dingy and stained preschool floors, walls painted with clouds and fish, and bathrooms with tiny toilets into a space which isn’t just a containment area for 6th-12th graders, but a place where they feel welcome and at home.
With the help of a college student and youth ministry alum, we set pencil to paper and we began to look at different ways to transform the space on a limited budget. We made lists of pros and cons of folding chairs vs. couches vs. bean bag chairs. We spent hour upon hour searching the internet for fun decorations. I asked colleagues for pictures of their youth space. I asked the youth what they wanted to see – a question which was hard to answer as they struggled with the idea of going to the “nursery” instead of the new building.
Finally, with design sheets dropped into recycling and the hammer put back into the drawer, we have our space.
We have a space where the teenagers can be themselves, where emerging adults can hold onto their childhood memories. We have a space where exhausted students can relax and where aspiring athletes can run the hallway. Their faces line the walls and their thin places take them away from the every day. The struggling teenager finds encouragement as they look in the bathroom mirror, rather than being faced with their perceived flaws. The emerging leaders gather around the table to dream and plan for ministry to and with their peers.
Our teenagers are faced with challenges every day and it was important to us that they find encouragement and empowerment within the challenge while they are at the church. It was important that they have a place where they not only feel comfortable, but where they can bring their friends.
During all of this, I witnessed (and really learned) something that will carry me further into ministry – the power of people with shared dreams can transform absolutely anything.
Countless volunteers came to move furniture, paint walls, donate and install new flooring, help hang pictures and clean dingy whiteboards. With the combined effort of those who shared a dream for a vibrant youth ministry with a space to call their own, our youth now have a hallway which (in my opinion) exceeds the beauty of our new building. It was the dreams and the time invested by the congregation which made this space so special. No amount of money could have transformed this space to the point where it is today. Every drop of love can change even the worst spaces into the most beautiful.
Is there a space in your building which needs a facelift? Will a little extra love and work transform a space for a ministry to grow and flourish? I encourage you to find a space and pray in it. Find others who might have a dream for the space. Dream and pray together as you find a way to reinvigorate the space with love and energy for a new day!
Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div.’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)