Seventh grade meant I could go to the long awaited, coveted Junior High Youth Group. No more watching the cars pull into the church drive on Sunday evenings or young teens walking up that driveway. Now I, too, trotted to the Fellowship Hall at six o'clock.
Ron and Ann Gaines were the leaders the first year I could go. They lived out in the country almost into Lawrence County. Ron taught at New Wilmington high school, but their kids, Pam and Claude, attended West Middlesex. Their home hosted several parties. Tonight reminds me of the Halloween party-yes, we celebrated Halloween back then. We carpooled to their place, Angie, by the Rolling Stones playing on the radio, as we rolled past the Amish corn stalks stacked in their teepee fashion.
Part of the activities that night included a scavenger hunt. I'm not sure what we were all supposed to find, but with my friends, Bobby and Judy, we walked a distance from the Gaines' yard paralleling I-80 and turning down another road. Finally, we decided we better turn around. I guess there was some panicking as we were the last to return.
We sledded at their home, too, on a Saturday afternoon in January. They had a huge western Pennsylvania hill, not a mountain like where my husband grew up, but it was decent. Hours speeding down that hill, then trudging back up. Then cookies and hot chocolate in their basement. I felt like a teenager in the movies. I belonged to a large group of kids having fun.
The end of the school year, a bonfire party rounded out the year, as we didn't meet in the summer. I wore jeans with rivets on the sides. The fire branded my legs with round burn spots from those rivets. It startled me when I got home and took off my pants. Noxzema provided the cure.
Being in Junior High Youth also gave us some gym time after our meeting and lesson. Our church possessed the old high school gym, a real boon to our youth groups. I learned to play pool(forget every thing you heard in The Music Man). I also shot some hoops and we seemed to always play a round of volley ball. There was a room off the stage, but we weren't allowed to hang out there on the couches. That room was designated for the senior high. We sometimes had meetings in there, though.
The leaders let us own the Youth Group. We had officers that we elected running the meetings. We took turns providing the devotions. My dad helped me when it was my turn. I did most of the work. We had books to help us, sometimes we did skits.
I loved our project that fall. We offered to do yard work. This year, my father couldn't work in the yard with all those leaves from the old huge trees. The group worked hard. I think the only other person in the church to take advantage of us was an old lady. We never did it again.
My first year of youth group I grew a lot. In one of the first January meetings, we were to write our sins on a piece of paper. Mine included swearing, smoking, telling lies, among some other actions, I'm sure. Then we burned them over a candle. I'm not sure if I was self conscious. I think some of the girls saw what I wrote as eyes rolled indicating they thought the worse of me. I think they missed the point. I seriously confessed and wanted Jesus to forgive my falling away from Him.
This pattern would continue for many more years. I would follow Jesus so closely, then slowly turn my head and heart to the distractions of popularity. I would confess, come clean, as they say. I would be on fire, then the flame would dim, but never go out. I never lost my belief. I always loved church. But I was not living for Jesus the rest of the time.
I'll write about my final commitment later. I believe this pattern is common, especially with kids growing up in America. Like I mentioned yesterday, children as they grow develop their faith. Jesus has to become real to them. They have to own their style and service. Parents, though, pray till their knees wear out and then some.