By Paul A. Barra
LEESVILLE – One of the major undertakings charged to participants in last week’s Christian Leadership Institute was the designing and production of nightly worship services. Since these campers are high school students, not many of them have experience in arranging liturgy.
Brian McGarry, 15, of St. Mary Magdalene Parish admitted to being “a little nervous” prior to his assignment: making up the opening prayer for a service. He volunteered for the assignment and seemed to have few second thoughts about choosing it.
“It’s good for me,” McGarry said. “The experience can help me learn to talk to God and should give me more confidence.”
Both are key objectives of the worship services, according to camp counselor Erin Walsh of St. Andrew in Clemson. The themed worship service McGarry and his teammates were working on was “Christian Growth,” a major goal of these diocesan institutes. Other daily themes were “God’s Love,” “New Life” and “Salvation.” Counselors, who are experienced CLI graduates, are on hand as the worship service is developed, but they try to restrict themselves to an advisory role.
“We guide them, but it’s really up to them,” Walsh said.
The services include a serious drama that conveys the message of the day’s theme, Walsh said, as well as a humorous welcome, prayer, scriptural meditation and small group discussions. Asking 15 or so teens to make up a public worship service is asking a lot, she said, but the results are worth it.
“This is all about stepping out as a leader and then going home and helping your parish youth group use what you’ve learned,” the counselor said.
John Waters, youth minister for St. Joseph in Columbia, said that parish youth groups need all the help they can get. Despite the fact that youth spiritual development was determined to be the main church need at the Synod of Charleston discussions in the mid-’90s, efforts to involve high schoolers on the parish level often suffer from a shortage of adult leadership. Less than 30 parishes in South Carolina have full-time youth ministers, and according to Waters, the “shelf life” of a youth leader is short. He has high expectations for high school CLI graduates.
“This is an opportunity for students to learn how to plan a youth group meeting. We encourage them to go back and help their youth leader,” Waters said. “This will pay huge dividends for the diocese because I see future youth leaders coming from this.”
CLI camper Rachel Buff of Prince of Peace helped create a rap music skit for one worship service. She loved the experience and the chance to see how to improve the youth ministry at her home parish.
“I’m planning on trying to help as much as I can. This week has taught me a lot we don’t do in our youth group,” Buff said.
The 17-year-old said that the CLI strategy of working in small groups bound in confidence gave the camp a feeling of family and brought her “closer to God.” Everyone at a Christian Leadership Institute gets involved in the processes of the camp, counselor Walsh said, and they all learn to express “what Christianity means to them.”
The high school Christian Leadership Institute is an annual project of the Diocese of Charleston. This year it was held at Camp Kinard, a Lutheran facility, from July 8-12.