February 6, 2018
Hello again my Second Presbyterian family, it is time for the second installment of my Youth Musical Blog. Apologies for the brief interlude (who knew that you work so much in college?), but I am now quite excited to tell you about the most public part of the Youth Musical experience: the performance.
After only 3 short months of frantic rehearsals a coalition of youth, devoted parents, hired musicians, and sleep deprived volunteers come together for a rollercoaster week of lights, make-up, costumes, and vigorous box-stepping. The atmosphere during these seven days is a delightful combination of enthusiasm, stress, joy, exhaustion, and (my favorite) silliness. From an outside perspective the process may look like madness, but in reality it is a feat of coordination that has never failed to impress me. College-aged youth group alumni arrive every year a week beforehand to run mics and lights, sometimes sacrificing their spring break for this endeavor. Parents and church members spend every night of their week providing dinner and support for a group of kids who themselves are rehearsing constantly.
Some of you may wonder why we run ourselves through this gauntlet every year. If it is so stressful and time-consuming, then why do we commit to it? You could sum it all up to simply keeping the tradition alive, but that wouldn’t explain it. The Youth Musical has grown into an entity in itself, but it only persists because of the massive amount of work put into it each year. So where does this motivation come from?
Now everyone has their own motivations and I can’t speak to all of them, so I’ll tell you mine in the hope that some of these feelings are universal. The Youth Musical for me was an event, a place, a community, and a feeling that was consistent. Despite all of the mess that goes into creating these shows, I looked forward to that week all year, because all that work was life giving. By that I mean that even after long nights and early mornings, I never once felt that it wasn’t worth it. Instead of being tired, work actually gave me energy.
Of course, I am a music nerd; singing and dancing is what I do. The thrill of performing was excitement enough for me. However, a few years back we performed the musical “Oklahoma” and I’ll admit that I have a strong distaste for just about every aspect of that show, but it’s not about what show we do, or who gets what part, or even how much money we make. The Youth Musical is about creating an opportunity for people to connect to each other. It’s about demonstrating to the youth and everyone who sees them work, what they are capable of. The adults who make this production happen each year are a devoted bunch and the youth that push themselves out on a stage are very brave. Have you ever seen a nervous 12-year-old kid go from barely speaking to belting out show tunes in front of hundreds of people? I have. And it never fails to impress me.
You can see how much this experience shapes people by counting all the familiar faces of those that sacrifice their time every year to make something like this happen. Those college students that come back each year come back because they know how much this experience can change lives. These connections go beyond the cast and crew though. On opening night that small community opens up the doors of Second Presbyterian to the entire city and invites them in for a night to forget about the endless tirade of ridiculousness that is everyday life.
Those seven days hold some of the fondest memories for me and I feel incredibly comfortable saying that they changed my life. The time spent practicing, building, perfecting, laughing, and singing shaped my understanding of what good community is. A good community supports one another. A good community provides opportunities for members to be better versions of themselves. A good community knows when to work and when to relax. And finally, a good community is always growing. The Youth Musical is all of these things. So I hope you go to one of the shows and I sincerely hope you enjoy it. But while you are there, take a moment to look around you and see all the faces gathered, and I hope you feel that you are part of our community as well.
January 17, 2018
Hello all my Second Presbyterian newsletter enthusiasts, my name is Noah Adams. In all likelihood we have met before, seeing as I have attended this church for the past 20 years, or as I like to call it – my entire life. I, like many of you, have grown to think of Second Presbyterian as a second home. Especially during my teenage years, this church has offered me a place of refuge, support, and joy, most notably through our youth program. However, despite our youth program’s strong legacy and community, not everyone feels the same connection to the program’s ministry and mission as I have. During my one-year tenure as a Youth Elder, the most common critique (I use this word in the friendliest of ways) of the youth program I received was that the broader church felt disconnected and distanced from the youth. They did not mean merely the physical distance between the youth building and the church, though I’m sure that was a part of it, but that the youth program is often off “doing its own thing”, with little opportunity for outside connection or collaboration.
One event that is often associated with this disconnect is the annual youth musical. Some of you may buy tickets each year, come to the shows, and applaud vigorously only to wonder on the drive back home if the youth you just supported even know your name or why a church youth group is putting on a musical in the first place. Some of you may ask what “High School Musical” or “Bye Bye Birdie” has to do with Jesus or the church? These are fair questions. From the outside looking in the youth musical seems to be another instance of the youth group “doing its own thing”, with the rest of us left to interpret what the point of that thing actually is. Hopefully, this is where I come in. Over the course of three posts I will attempt to provide an insider’s perspective into the transformative ministry that is the youth musical and all it does to open this somewhat closed community to the broader church. So first, lets talk about work.
Each Saturday, starting in the late fall and continuing until the week before opening night, adults and youth gather in the great hall for the least glamorous part of a musical production – creating the set. This requires hours of painting, construction, cleaning, organizing, and goofing off (that is an essential part mind you). One of the greatest and most frustrating things about these 6 hour workdays is that most of our construction crew has never even used a drill (or really any power tool) in their life. The good news is that recruitment is the best tool of all and during musical season it is the youth program’s bread and butter. At workdays parents show up to work with their kids, kids show up with their friends, and adults with no direct connection to the youth program show up to lend an experienced hand. My favorite days are when the famed Over The Hill gang arrives to help our motely crew to construct the stage. All these retired men who usually spend their days building houses, take a day to patiently teach teens and pre-teens the very basics of carpentry. On these days two groups of people who would have never interacted are brought together. They work, they joke, they eat cheap pizza, and they are able to look at the end of the day at something they built together.
When I was in high school Saturday, not Sunday, was the day of rest. However, despite my pious devotion to relaxation, I was still compelled to go to workdays each week. It wasn’t the work that motivated me though, that was just a side job. It was my opportunity to see people I wouldn’t have any other reason to see; cool adults that volunteered their time to help us build the set. That would talk to me like I was their friend and not just some kid they knew. In church we talk a lot about the idea of fellowship. We usually split our fellowship ministries into subgroups, most often divided by age. This makes sense for obvious reasons but it can also harm our larger sense of fellowship, by making any interaction between age groups just happy accidents, instead of intentional interactions. Musical workdays, while primarily for the youth group’s benefit, cut down some of these barriers and make the musical itself an intergenerational project. These connections last beyond those Saturday mornings and become true organic friendships.
I have begun to think of the youth musical as a ministry. The most obvious goal of our ministry is of course to put on the best performance we can, but this is not our most important goal. The ministry of the youth musical takes the concept of fellowship and puts it to work. We are our best selves when we are creating and doing. We build the strongest bonds when we work with each other to make something bigger than ourselves. At the end of each workday we are able to see our physical progress in front of us and the best part is that we can all see it. The young and the not as young. The parents and the kids. The people who come for a day and the people that come every week. Finally, we present it to the community and then they too can become a part of our ministry. There are the practical benefits of these workdays and those are quite nice, but I’ve forgotten a lot of those skills. However, I still have the friends I made and the comforting feeling in knowing that each Saturday a new round of youth and adults get to create those friendships too.