By Becky Ullom Naugle
“But God’s already made it plain how to live, what to do. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously–take God seriously” (Micah 6:8, The Message).
For the first time since 2019, junior high youth and their advisors gathered for National Junior High Conference. Eleven districts were represented in the 164 participants who spent the weekend on the campus of Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa. Worship, a central piece of the program, invited participants to ask the question: “What Does God Want from Me?”
Gabe Dodd, pastor of Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren in Hagerstown, Md., reminded participants to pray and practice listening to God.
Ecumenical guests Hyacinth Stevens and Damien Feyjoo focused on celebrating the joy of our faith, and understanding the depth of mercy God offers to us, respectively.
Amber Harris, ordained in the Church of the Brethren and executive director of SPARK (Share Peace and Rekindle Kindness Inc.), encouraged participants to hope and act courageously while watching for the Holy Spirit’s movement.
Music, led by Kaity and Kyle Remnant, built and enlivened the community.
Pastors Naomi Kraenbring of Elizabethtown, Pa., and Joel Gibbel of York First, Pa., spent hours crafting and coordinating worship services to not only engage the junior high youth, but also to be led by them.
Workshops provided youth the chance to take a “deep dive” into topics including poetry as a faithful practice, creating rhythm and music, team building games, healing racism through children’s books, tools for anxiety and depression, praying with images, making the world better with comics, service, and more.
On Saturday during recreation time, the group traveled to the college’s field station, created as an environmental research and education center at Raystown Lake. Youth rotated through several learning stations including “greening your church,” planting a pollinator garden, and considering our place in God’s creation. The group enjoyed outdoor games and dinner before heading back to campus.
After worship on Saturday night, the group visited the on-campus observatory to consider God’s glory as expressed through a beautiful night sky.
The Youth/Young Adult Ministry Office is deeply grateful for advisors’ investment of time and energy into the gathered body of youth. Additionally, this event would not have been possible without the powerful collaboration of Chuck Yohn, Juniata College director of the Raystown Field Station and associate professor of environmental science and studies, and pastor Cindy Lattimer of Stone Church of the Brethren. Several members of the Stone Church congregation led workshops.
May the seeds that were planted in the lives of the junior higher who attended grow well and produce the fruit of the Spirit in the years to come!
The next National Junior High Conference will be held in the summer of 2025.
— Becky Ullom Naugle is director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Church of the Brethren.
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