I had the opportunity in the weekend just been to escape from preparations and speak to a group of young people at their annual church camp.

I had a group of 20 high schoolers, ranging from 13 – 17, mostly female to entertain for approx 4.5 hours over the weekend. I didn’t really know much about the group, just their ages really. Most were Christian of a sort, with a few from non-Christian homes. It was a weekend to get to know a group.

UNIQUELY YOU – The first session.
I gave each person two pieces of card and a coloured marker while we were sitting in a circle. I asked them to partner with the person next to them and trace one another’s hands onto the card, one for the left and one for the right. We reflected on what the hands looked like.

Then I asked them to take whichever hand was their “doing” hand, and on the hand write or draw words and symbols for all the things that they are uniquely good at, passionate about, like doing. Natural talents and hobbies.. everything that they can do.

Onto the other hand (usually left), I asked them to put all the things in life that they value – the Values they live by and for. Many drew rings to symbolise marriage and family on a ring finger. Talked about family, friends, hope.

Then in the group, we went around the circle and gave a few moments to each person, for the group to say positive things that they thought, felt or knew. The person had to write down what the group said about them on their “values” hand.

We then talked about Psalm 139, and being utterly unique in our DNA for skills and passions. We placed all the hands in a circle and could see plainly, how different each person was. Those that had similar skills had vastly different passions and values. Each person was unique.

I spoke about how serving God and loving God is also about coming to know yourself how God has made you to be. Talked about common sense, and living by your true self, living in the creation that God made you to be, rather than in other people’s expectations. We talked about how we could be those people, live those radically well-chosen lives, pointing out that the end decisions might be the same but the process and purpose is different.

Talked about living in such a way that maximises that talents we have been given, in line with our values – or choosing the also-valid, middle ground.

UNIQUELY US – The second session.
We returned the next day and began with another piece of card. Briefly reviewing the last session, we started by asking each student to write down one positive characteristic of the youth group in the centre of the card, largely. Then we went around the circle again, and each person shared the word that they chose and why. Each person wrote these words around their centre word until the whole card was filled.

I then read from 1 Corinthians 12, about the body. How the uniqueness of our individual hands, also makes up a unique blueprint for our community, but that we can exercise choice. We can choice how to interact and serve one another as community. Talked specifically about how saying that you’re not part of the body, actually doesn’t make you any less an ear or an eye.

We then talked about the important of needing Grace and to hear Forgiveness in order to be all you are, to be fully accepted as yourself (session #1). I read James 5:13-17. Talked about the power of forgiving one another all the time, practising Grace constantly, and creating safe places to share the fullness of life with each other (joy, sorrow, sickness, sin).

I then asked the group to close their eyes, and put their hand up if they would feel safe sharing their deepest, darkest stuff in this group. I reminded them of all the positive and wonderful things they had said, but gave them the opportunity to be honest in their response. 3 out of 20 responded affirmatively. One of those was the youth pastor.

So, in revealing that to the group, the atmosphere changed. We talked about the difference between wanting to be a community like that, and actually being one. I then split the group into pairs again, but this time they had to work with someone they didn’t know. They had to answer two questions..

1. what would our group look like and be like if we were a safe place to share and practicing grace and forgiveness?
2. what are some of the ways that we can go about practising grace in our community?

The discussion went on and on, until I asked the pairs to return to the circle and report back. Here’s what they came up with..

– nearly every pair reported that the group would be less cliche-y and more welcoming
– a number said that the group would be friendlier
– one pair said, “I think that we’d get bigger, we’d be a bigger group”
– they reported they would feel safer with each other, more secure, more belonging
– they thought they would have more compassion for others, would do more service
– they thought they would be able to genuinely help each other more

And how
– spend more time talking to each other
– tell each other what’s good about each other more often
– intentionally try to talk to everyone not just our friends in youth group, try and make sure everyone is included in the friendships
– spend more time together hanging out and just listening.

We went back to the individual hands, and went back around the circle, this time asking the students to look at one another again, and see the unique and individual role that they had in helping to make that sort of change in the group. This is where I had to work hardest – to bring my observations of individual students as well as the peer responses together to make a constructive word for each.

However, it was amazing how the group responded. Comments about particular students being funny or always making others laugh, became recognised as encouragement gifts that are needed. We identified thermometers in the group, the kids who can always tell the atmosphere when it needs a shot in the arm. We recognised problemsolvers, and the observant ones that notice the kids left out and figure out how to connect to them. The students themselves picked out the leaders amongst them, and the impact it could have on their schools. The closer we got to the end of the circle, the more the students could identify and think about how each person’s unique DNA could really impact the journey of the group.

We finished and I prayed, then the group travelled to lunch. It was good good times to see, instead of 4 tables of young people sitting all over the dining hall, ONE group of twenty students from 13 – 17, pulling tables together and making a point of sitting with someone new next to them… without any prompting other than laying out the ideas and opening windows to see the world differently. It was a good day.

It made me feel HopeFULL.
Bring on 15 sleeps.