Building a Student and Youth Community
Although she went to a Christian school her entire life, Sarah Schultz didn’t grow up with a peer group at her small church in Oregon. In fact, she and her sister were the only children in her small congregation for many years. “I had 100 grandparents, but no one my age!” Two others were eventually confirmed with her in middle school, but there was no such thing as a youth group to provide a teenage faith community. While she looks back now and wishes things would have been different, it was that experience that directed her to go into ministry.
“I saw an influx of kids coming after me, and I wanted to give them something that I never had myself.” She helped start a youth group and watched it grow. “I went to a couple conferences and learned how to connect our youngest members and our older members. My challenge was to find ways to combine them and give them shared experiences, or have them learning from the same source but each take away appropriate lessons.”
Sarah and her husband, Joe, decided earlier this year that it was time to move away from Oregon. Her mother had moved to Iowa, and it became the focus of their job search. “I saw the Kids and Youth positions open at St. Mark, and quickly convinced Joe that this was the perfect job for me. It was working with kids and working in ministry – two of my very favorite things. I got the job overseeing the Student & Youth programs here, and Joe will be running the Kids ministry. The next thing we knew, we were on a plane and here we are!”
Sarah is very excited to work with the students at St. Mark. “I want to get to know their unique personalities. Middle schoolers are still so curious, and even high schoolers can enjoy just being goofy sometimes – I want to make our time together fun! They all have amazing gifts, and I can’t wait to see what those are.”
Building an environment where students feel supported and loved is a top priority for Sarah. “Having friends at church is so important. At my Christian school, I knew that everyone had faith, but as I’ve talked to Joe and others over the years who went to public school, I’ve realized that not everyone understands why you go to church. What is important for our students and youth is that they have someone who understands what they are doing, what they are going through, and maybe even has the same questions, so they know they are not alone. We are here for them.”
One of the ways Sarah plans to help the St. Mark teenagers feel that they are part of a community involves supporting each other outside of church activities. “One of the best things I did at Holy Cross that I intend to do here, is that I bought some calendars and told the kids that if they had a game, a concert, or were part of a show, to mark the calendar. Then I’d get a group of our kids and we’d go together to support them as often as we could, maybe even with a sign! They’d put it on the calendar, and I’d show up. That’s the biggest part of the job we do, is understanding where they come from and building relationships that they can trust.”