There has been some sawdust flying around the basement of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Indianola, on Wednesday afternoons this fall, and we have not been under construction or renovation. Now, we have sewing machines whirring and quilt blocks hanging on bulletin boards in our education wing, and it is not from our regular Monday morning quilting group. No, all of this activity is part of what we are calling our “God’s work. Our hands.” Activity, which is a new part of our Faith Formation program this year.
In the fall of 2008, we revamped our confirmation program from solely a classroom setting to a Faith Formation program including an entire afternoon of activities. The middle school youth would be picked up from school and brought to the church for some games with me, a snack, choir, a study hall, dinner and then a large group/small group when all of the practices had concluded for the day, ending the evening at 7:00. This program really was going well, and our youth were building stronger bonds with one another as they spent this time together.
When the Indianola Community School District made the decision to have one-hour early outs every Wednesday afternoon, we had to determine how that would change our Faith Formation program. If we were going to continue to bring the middle school youth to church immediately after school, we would have an extra hour to fill with activity since we still could not begin our Faith Formation class until 6:00 p.m. due to practice schedules for sports. Knowing that his had to be a structured activity in order to keep the youth engaged, and knowing that this was a time of day (3:15 to 4:15 p.m.) when many adults in our congregation are still at work, I was concerned about what we could do that would interest the youth.
One Monday morning this summer, I was having coffee with the quilters, and I was sharing my concern with them. They began to suggest ideas of hands-on activities that members of the congregation who are retired or had flexible work schedules could lead that would give our youth life skills that they used to get in school, but which have largely been removed from the public school setting, and then share with them how these skills can be used to do God’s work in the world.
We began to brainstorm together, and we came up with various activities, such as quilting/sewing, woodworking, cooking, acting, blanket tying, and art in various forms, that could span a block of time from two to six weeks, as well as members of the congregation who would be natural “teachers” for these various activities. I reached out to those members of the congregation and asked them whether they would be willing to give some of their time and energy to sharing their craft, trade or skill with our young people, and I had an overwhelmingly positive response. When I shared this plan with the middle school small group leaders, they commented that we should use the ELCA tag line for the name of this activity. And so was created the “God’s work. Our hands.” Activity each week.
Our first activity was woodworking. During the first six weeks of Faith Formation, Clint Richey, a retired industrial arts teacher, along which his team, Martin Bishop, Jo Richey, Paula Schulz and Steve Tudor, have turned room 101 in the basement into a woodshop where they have taught our middle school youth how to use a jigsaw to create breadboards, how to creatively and accurately measure and use drills to create paper towel holders, how to build from a model as they built saw horses to be donated to Habitat for Humanity, and how to put their skills together to create bluebird houses for them to keep and benches to be used on the church lawn. Our Faith Formation kids have had a lot of fun with this activity, and they have learned how the people on this team do God’s work with these skills through Habitat for Humanity, fix-it work around the church and other members’ homes, and renovation work, like insulating the older sections of the church.
Now, with the help of our regular quilters led by Jo Richey, Paula Schulz, Sandy Baiers, Audrey Tudor, and Dorothy Ehlert, our quilting room and some of the Sunday School classrooms have been transformed into sewing rooms, and the youth are in the process and making quilts for Lutheran World Relief. It is fun to watch them plan out the quilt, sew the squares together, and observe how they all approach the project differently, and yet, they all come out with a quality product. I cannot wait for the other units and what the kids will come up with then.
In all of this, the kids are enjoying getting to know older members of the congregation with whom they don’t always have a lot of contact, and those who are volunteering their time are having a great time sharing their gifts and their faith with this generation of youth. It truly is “God’s work. Our hands.” in action.
Written by Pastor Carrie Lewis La Plante, Redeemer Lutheran Church in Indianola, IA