I loved that place. I was there every time the doors opened, and if I wasn't there, I wanted to be. As I was looking at the pictures that I mentioned yesterday, I saw the faces of so many people who loved me and nurtured me and helped me become the person I am now (although I imagine some of them would be mighty concerned about the person I am now). They were funny and generous and kind and giving and warm, and most of them realized that they needed to be the village for the young people in the church. The adults in that church were our prayer support when we went on mission trips, many of them were our mentors, and they all sincerely cared about who we were and what we were up to. They wanted us to be the best people we could be, and they wanted us to live our faith. But they weren't single-minded about church. Many were just as interested in what we were learning in Algebra as whether we could recite Psalm 23. I felt at home there, and I knew that I could trust any one of those adults with anything I was feeling or thinking. If every kid could have a village like that, the world would be a much better place.
Our youth pastor was amazing. He was a single guy, but not in an immature, "I've got too much to do before I settle down"kind of way. He believed that he was called to singleness so that he could focus on serving others through the church. And he did. We went on amazing mission trips and we had great outreach activities. He didn't give us a pass because we were young. We were expected to serve the church and serve others and to be serious about it. He expected us to study the Bible and be able to articulate what it meant for our lives. And he loved us. It was clear that his whole heart was dedicated to making us disciples.
So I wanted to be at church when I was growing up. The people there were the very best of what we hope others think of when they think "Christian." In my ordination papers I talked a lot about my love of this church and their love for me, and how much that love influenced my decision to go into pastoral ministry. I wish that every person who ever darkened the door of a church could have (most of) the kind of experience I had there. And my hope as a pastor is both that I can be part of creating that kind of church, and that I can help churches learn how to be that kind of church.
But there is bitter with the sweet.