Foundations for Community: Summer Kids and Youth Programs at Grace Northridge
Summer time is traditionally the season for churches to hold special programs for children and youth. Grace Northridge is a member of the Anglican Mission in America and took some unique approaches in developing their summer fun this year.
Teaching Children to Be Builders
For three evenings in June, 25 children ages 3 through fifth grade at Grace Northridge (San Antonio) learned to be builders. With the wraparound theme of “Jesus, our Strong Foundation,” the kids put on construction vests and hard hats and went to work understanding the truth of 1 Corinthians 3:11: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.” (NLT) Amid Bible stories of the tower of Babel and the wise and foolish builders, as well as of Paul’s teachings about being built up as the Body of Christ, the children learned through related crafts, games and songs.
“They loved the games and the crafts the most, but you could definitely tell by the end of it that they were actually engaged in learning,” says Chandler Archer, children’s ministry director. At the end, the kids participated in a competition to see who could memorize the theme verse, and staff members were overwhelmed by the number who committed that verse to memory.
“We created our own curriculum. All of the curricula that we liked online were made for five days or more. We felt we would spend just as much time cutting it down to three days [as we would] just making our own. We created our own last year too. Our worship leader actually made a theme song this year. It was so fun,” Chandler explains.
Because Grace Northridge hosts Old School Makerspace (a place to take classes in hands-on arts and crafts such as woodworking, painting, drawing and ceramics, as well as a place to access shared space, tools and equipment), the children were able to do their building crafts in an actual workshop. “They had so much fun,” says Chandler.
This unique vacation Bible school was held June 7-9 in the evenings. According to Chandler, the dates were chosen for maximum availability for the children, and the times were selected to involve as many parents as possible. “A lot of our volunteers are working parents, and evenings just made the most sense for them. If they wanted to volunteer, they could join in with us after they were done working,” she explains. And though the team was looking for the optimum number of volunteers, they also wanted parents involved so they could participate with their children and know how to follow up on the lessons at home. Chandler explains that getting a firsthand perspective, as opposed to only hearing about VBS from their children, makes a big difference for moms and dads. “These parents were involved hands on. They were part of the foundation that we were laying in their children.”
Going Deeper With Teens
The sixth through 12th graders at Grace Northridge also had a unique summertime experience. Colton Hawkins, the student director at the church, also leads the local Young Life program. Because of that dual role, he was able to bring in teens not only from the church but also from four schools in the community. “This year I put on our first in-house Grace Northridge weeklong summer camp. For the high schoolers, we did different overnights at different places. We went camping one night at a state park in Canyon Lake. We have a lot of outdoorsy students that love just being out in nature and just hanging out as well as doing fun stuff outside,” Colton explains. “However, I didn’t quite know the experience levels of each of them or their willingness to sleep in a tent or in a hammock. But it was great community building. There’s something about sitting underneath a little pavilion at a metal table, sharing a simple sandwich meal and playing games with one another that just builds community.”
The middle schoolers joined the older teens for a day at Schlitterbahn Waterpark. None had been there before, so it was a great and wild experience. “We went on as many things as we could so that way, they could experience it in the best way possible. Then … everyone went and slept in their own beds—it was one of the benefits of being able to put on an in-house camp. The next morning, we came back together and floated on the Guadalupe River,” Colton describes.
All of these activities not only offered great fun, but a great time to talk together—about deep things. “Something I’ve learned very quickly about working at a church instead of just working in a mission is that churched students know a lot about God, but they don’t necessarily know who God is. And they have a lot of deep questions, many that society has provoked.” Colton shares. “Their questions are not like your normal day-one questions about how to walk in faith. They are way deeper and filled with things that sometimes honestly catch me off guard! I have to go away and come back with an answer a few days later because I need to do some research. Our floating time on the river trip was a really fruitful time as we were able to have some pretty deep conversations about a lot of questions that are coming up in the media and among their friends.”
While there was no specific theme for their days together, Colton says that themes emerged through these conversations, and he was able to discuss how Scripture is relevant to various topics. “We had just gone through an entire semester-long study on the Gospel of John, and it seemed better to make this camp a time of community building. The biggest thing I want for them is to be able to be comfortable asking questions and having conversations with each other as well as with me,” Colton explains. “This is only my second year with this group. I’ve grown in friendship with all of them, but I can tell there’s a lot that’s being held back just out of fear of judgment and the risk of being open with someone that you just met. And so, for now, I am just trying to grow in that and let them ask questions all the time.”