February is here, and we are well into our yearly theme. This year’s theme is “The Story/The Stories.” Each week our blog will focus on a story from a youth minister. We hope these stories help inspire you in the great work you are doing, as well as let you know you aren’t alone in the crazy, sweet, often hard to fathom world of youth ministry. This week we are hearing……
A Story of Hospitality
While a Missouri-native, Abby Pratt currently lives in Richmond, VA where she serves as the Associate Pastor of Youth and Mission at Central Baptist Church. Abby graduated from Wake Forest University School of Divinity in 2014 and was ordained by Peace Haven Baptist Church (also in Winston-Salem, NC). With roots in Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia, Abby is a fan of KU Basketball, the Kansas City Royals, CookOut Milkshakes, and tacky Christmas lights.
The week of Ash Wednesday our church was scheduled to host a community-shared emergency shelter for women. The shelter moves from various churches in the greater Richmond area each week. While staying in our church building we offer these women a place to sleep, a shower, and a warm meal. Each night different groups from the community and from within our church help serve dinner, visit with the ladies, and coordinate laundry, showers, etc. It is a holy and hectic time within the life of our church.
On Wednesday, our congregation had gathered for a special service including the imposing of ashes. After the service a handful of my youth asked if they could stay and help. I was pleased to see they had come to the service and even more excited that they wanted to stay a little longer. We had planned to offer a short Ash Wednesday service for the ladies after they had finished dinner. I had struggled with how to lead this service in a way that was welcoming to the women. Two of my Middle School girls were specially interested in helping with the service. As I walked through which scripture we would read and how we impose ashes, I noticed they were paying very close attention to everything I said and did.
When it came time to start the service, we formed a small circle and three or four of the ladies came and joined us. The girls read scripture with great care and tried to only giggle a little bit when they stumbled over a word. They were quick to create more room as a few more ladies joined us. And they listened closely as I explained the meaning behind the ashes and why as Christians we recognized Ash Wednesday. While we had talked some in Sunday School and Youth Group about Lent and Ash Wednesday, a lot of this was new to them. At the end of the service both girls took a small container of ashes and formed the shape of the cross on the ladies foreheads. “From ash you came and to ash you will return.”
In this moment, the busyness of the week and the exhaustion I was feeling didn’t seem to matter as much. I watched as my students, the ones who week after week I taught, nurtured, and ministered became ministers themselves. Their words and actions communicated God’s love and care while also sharing a humbling sense of hospitality. These girls knew what it felt like to feel a little out of place, uncomfortable, or confused at church. But they also knew what it felt like to be welcomed and this is what they wanted to share most. I saw them do this through the smiles on their faces and the compassion in their eyes. And this sharing of ministry was not limited to how my girls interacted with the ladies. The ladies turned back to them and to one another with smiles, tears, and hugs. Barriers came down as we found unity through the ashes. It is from ashes we (those who have much and those who have little, those who are happy, those who are sad, those who recognize the church as a second home, and those who came to this church in need of a temporary home) came, and it is to ashes we all will return.