Ashes to Ashes
Ash Wednesday is always an...interesting night at youth. Wednesdays are when our normal meetings happen, so for one week each year our gathering coincides with this solemn worship service. We make it a point to join in with the church on this service. Students are asked to wear a ministry shirt and instructed to sit together at the front of the church.
I never really know what to expect, as far as attendance goes, on Ash Wednesday. Many of the students who normally come to youth on Wednesdays are a part of another church, or faith tradition on Sunday's. For several of those, they attend services with their families on Ash Wednesday.
There is a handful of our students who attend private schools, where an Ash Wednesday service is built into their weekly chapel services.
For many others, they just don't like change and decide this is a week where they won't show up.
The main frustration with this uncertainty is not knowing how many pizzas I should buy.
I need to make the order before I leave to go and pick students, and before many of them have responded whether or not they would be coming tonight. Without knowing the approximate number of students it's hard to work the formula to determine how many pizzas are needed.
So I settled on 10 pizzas.
Just after ordering I got my first, second, and third no's. School work, attending with family, and even babysitting so other church members can come to the service were all some of the earliest reasons I heard as to why students couldn't make it.
A route that normally consists of pick-ups at six different locations was cut down to two.
On the way to my first stop I realized that ten pizzas may have been a bit ambitious. When I arrived at Newport Landing (the apartment complex where the majority of students are picked up from) and heard "not tonight" from several more people, I felt a little like the servant of the feast giver in Luke 14. All the invitations were sent, the food was ready, but the house was not filled.
And so, much like that story, we started to invite everyone we knew, and a few people we didn't.
Ash Wednesday is not our typical youth night. In it we join with the Church and remember our need for salvation. Because we will be joined by people of all ages, we made a special point to invite kids who will age into our ministry in the next couple of years to come and eat pizza before service.
I would love to say I had the forethought to see this as a type of "youth preview" night.
I did not.
Not until students were here, interacting with their younger counterparts, playing games, eating dinner, praying, and even attending the service together, did the thought occur to me that this would be a great time for that.
Some of these kids have seen their older siblings or neighbors leave for youth each week for years, but tonight they got to get a taste for themselves, and, hopefully, a desire to be a part of it soon.
I hope that will become our mentality at all times in the church. It is good to have age appropriate times for teaching and fellowship, but even in those times, we should always be making room for more. And not only making room, but continuing to go out and intentionally inviting people to come.
In this lenten season we will be talking about sharing our faith during youth. Our challenge will be to live out the call and our purpose to Go into the world. To the highways and the hedges. And to live out the work we have been given.
That work begins with realizing our own need for a savior. So may these words from Psalm 51 be true for us.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.