God is building a home. He’s using us all... in what he is building. He’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. – Ephesians 2
The 2016 round of Confirmation Class visits to the United Methodist Center in Cranberry Township is over. A total of 437 individuals from 47 churches throughout Western PA explored their roles in “Building the Kingdom.”
Ephesians 2 provided the theme and in the opening segment Greg Cox, director of connectional ministries, introduced the concept as other staffers briefly talked about what it means to support the church with prayers, presence, gifts, and service. The exercise also demonstrated what happens when those things –or parts of what God is building—are missing.
The confirmation classes brought an assortment of building tools and other items with them. Those were delivered to the Mission Barn and will be used by Disaster Response Teams when needed. Among the items, which filled eight very large containers, were carpenter pencils, dust masks, duct tape (LOTS of duct tape), work gloves, ear plugs, safety goggles, 30 gallon garbage bags, tape measures, flashlights and batteries, hand sanitizer, and electrical tape. Rev. Calvin Cook, Disaster Response Coordinator, was grateful when he received them on April 6.
As part of each confirmation visit, the Rev. Stephanie Gottschalk, the Conference mission coordinator, told the youth about the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s work and walked them through the process of responding to a “disaster” on Pineapple Island. They had to assess needs, carefully gather resources, and get them to where they were needed.
“Confirmation Class visits to the Conference Center give us an opportunity to share with youth and adults alike what we really do here in Cranberry,” Cox said. “It’s about making connections between this office and the ministry that happens all over Western Pennsylvania and throughout the world. It’s great to see the joy that youth bring to ministry and to see them get it!”
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton has welcomed youth and their leaders into his office since 2005, his first full year in Western Pennsylvania. They ask him any questions they want.
“Over the years I have loved sitting on the floor of my office talking church with the confirmation classes,” the Bishop said. “It has given me a chance to understand their joys and struggles and to be a “real person” to them. I have been overwhelmed by the enduring connection that has been forged with so many of the confirmands over the years. I will remember sitting on my floor with them for many years to come.”
Cox, too, was particularly aware of connections during the visits.
“This year, some of us were able to remember our own journeys in ministry as we reconnected with ‘babies’ we had baptized in local churches who are now about to affirm their own faith. Its exciting to be a part of that connection, to see them make that connection and to witness faith that is alive and ever expanding.”
The 2016 groups were the first to experience the new spiritual space on the Conference Center property, an outdoor labyrinth that is open to anyone. The youth were very open to the spiritual walk on the labyrinth, said Rev. Chris Kindle, director of discipleship, who along with Youth Director Renaye Hoffman sometimes braved chill winds as groups walked the path to the center of the labyrinth.
“They (the youth) were able to receive the gift of the pilgrimage without the need to fully understand it or have it defined - which is often different from adults,” Kindle explained. “We too often need to control and define. They simply wanted to walk, to get to the center. They wanted to experience the journey with each step they took. Watching the youth reminded me of the same invitation to walk with Jesus.”
Rev. Amy Wagner, director of congregational development and revitalization, and and Rev. Susan Moudry, director of clergy excellence, explored gifts and talents with the young people.
“It was fun to see the wide variety of things they recognized in themselves and others, making it clear why we need each one of them in the church,” Moudry said. “They shared ways they already are using their gifts: like reading, playing music, singing, teaching kids, volunteering in mission, and lots more. We had chefs, chess players, athletes, artists, musicians -- and many of them were able to identify spiritual gifts like leadership, helps, mercy, teaching, speaking and more.
“As part of the exploration, each of the youth created a puzzle piece representing themselves, and then we fit them all together representing the church and how every one of us and our gifts are needed. If you take one piece out, there is a hole and something missing.”
The take-away, she explained, was that “the gifts God gives you are something you can use now! Don't wait. And be creative about how you can share them in the church!”
To see additional photos from the Confirmation Class visits, go the Conference Flickrstream.