GREENVILLE—Chris Stansberry has been searching for a way to keep young people off the streets of downtown Greenville, and judging by the turnout Jan. 9 at St. Mary Church he seems to have found the solution.
Around 70 high school teens arrived inside the church gymnasium on a chilly Upstate night for the first “Saturday Night Alive in Christ” celebration.
Stansberry, who is the high school youth minister at St. Mary, said he borrowed the name for the event from the “Saturday Night Live” television show that’s been an entertainment staple for older teens and young adults for years. But the similarities between the two stop there.
“We had some problems here in downtown Greenville with unsupervised youth,” Stansberry said. “There were gangs who were coming in and creating problems three blocks away from us.”
The problem was so severe that last fall the City of Greenville imposed a nightly downtown curfew for teenagers in an effort to get them off city streets.
Stansberry said he chose Saturday night instead of the more common Sunday night for the youth group gathering in hopes of attracting more young people.
“It’s a way for them to get together and have some good, clean fun mixed in with some important messages,” he said.
The fun on this night included dodge ball, volleyball, link tag and basketball, along with a spaghetti dinner served up by the local Knights of Columbus Council 13112.
“We wanted to support our youth,” said Gary Bays, a council member. “They’re the next line of defense for the pro-life movement.”
Bays’ wife Terry helped distribute pro-life materials at the event. She is a member of the church’s Culture of Life Committee.
Stansberry said that by holding the event on Saturday night, he’s hoping to make it more convenient for youth of any faith, and turn it into an ecumenical event.
“On Sunday night, it may be more difficult for a Catholic to ask his or her Baptist or Protestant friends to come to their event because they have activities at their churches on Sundays,” Stansberry said.
But by having a Catholic-led event open to all and at a more convenient time, “there may be some things that can happen there in recognizing each other as truly Christians,” he said.
Speaker John Wood and musician Adam Trufant helped deliver that message.
Wood is a member of St. Mary. He was home-schooled and was a member of a local debate team. He has given talks to high school youth at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors and then at the St. Mary event.
“I try to communicate God’s love and ways they can have a deeper relationship with God and how they can communicate with him,” he said.
Trufant is a student at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. He travels throughout the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., to share God’s message through music, including a half hour of praise and worship at the event in Greenville.
Joseph Pelicano, a senior home-schooled student, said he welcomes the encouragement he receives from programs like the one at St. Mary.
“Coming at the end of the week, it helps to build you back up and re-center on Christ,” Pelicano said.
Lily Gullion, a 14-year-old freshman at Greenville Tech Charter High, said events like Saturday Night Alive in Christ help her stay connected to her Catholic faith at a time of change in her young life.
“I attended elementary and middle school at St. Mary,” she said, “and now that I’m at a public high school, having events like this are important to me. I love it.”