EDITOR'S NOTE: In the 1970s, a Dougherty County church began a youth group whose members, three and a half decades later, got together to reminisce about old times. The writer, Carol Marsh, was the director of that group.
It all began in 1975 when a small group of teenagers met for Methodist Youth Fellowship at the Putney United Methodist Church in Putney. I was asked to become the new "youth director" for this group.
Having no formal training in this field, I was a little hesitant to accept. But now, as the years have come and gone, I can tell you that "God doesn't call the qualified -- He qualifies the called." I accepted this challenge and it changed my life forever.
On Oct. 9, 2010, the day before the 50th anniversary and homecoming for Putney UMC, a very special group of "youth" gathered at the Plant Mitchell Clubhouse on the beautiful Flint River for a reunion.
Many of the original members of the group were present, as well as many others who were part of the group throughout the years. Derek "Bubba" Childs drove 11 hours to attend and when asked about the distance, his reply was, "I would have driven halfway around the world for this."
The bond of love in this group is still as strong today as it was 35 years ago. Some in the group had not seen each other for a long time, but had kept their relationships strong through the years. I think one reason for the closeness of this group is that they learned the value of hard work -- always working to earn every cent for any activity that they did. This made them so much more appreciative than having it given to them. (They chose to give a tithe of all monies earned either to the church or to a mission.)
Being a small church, there was never any money budgeted for the youth program (if it was, it was very little). But that didn't keep them from doing all the things that other youth groups did.
They worked diligently and steadfastly, having bake sales, bike-a-thons, rock-a-thons, ice cream socials, spaghetti suppers and the list goes on and on. You might find them in the back of a pickup truck going door to door collecting Coke bottles to recycle. That was really a good moneymaker -- you got 5 cents for the small ones and 10 cents for the larger ones. Once, they saved newspapers and loaded them onto the old green bus until it was full. I think its value was $24 -- never again did they do this!
Speaking of the old green bus, once we finally were able to purchase it, we were so happy to have a way to go on our trips. We had it painted and were so proud. My brother-in-law, Billy Griffin, graciously volunteered to be our driver, and was that ever a blessing. He was a mechanic! Most times, it had to have a little push to get her going. But it always got us there and back except for one time. We went to Savannah for a Confirmation trip and it let us down -- we had to borrow another church bus to get home.
After a hard year of fundraisers, it was time to go to Mexico Beach for summer vacation. They were happy and content to be together at the beach without a lot of extracurricular activities. The fun and entertainment was provided by different ones in the group. And you couldn't get any better than that!
Between Dale Griffin, one of the first of the group, and Rick Turner (our pastor), well, need I say more?
The beach was always our "big" trip, but we also made it to Six Flags once a year and many other places closer to home. One of their favorite trips was going to Epworth By The Sea at St. Simons Island.
Having fun was not the most important aspect for this group. But I think if you incorporate "fun" with teaching young people, it is certainly much easier and the success rate is very high. At least it worked with this group! Sunday mornings would find them in Sunday school and worship and again on Sunday evening for Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) and choir practice. When we started we had maybe 12 in attendance. After the word had spread of all the things we were doing and planning to do, our group soon reached a whopping 40 young people and continued to grow throughout the years.
Many Sundays, there were more "youth" in attendance than regular church members. Many of them came without their parents and many of them were able to bring their parents into the church. What a blessing that was.
These fine young people are proof positive of what happens when they are nurtured by a loving and caring congregation during one of the most important times in their lives. The years in which I was youth director, I had the privilege of working with two generations. It was always such a joy to see these young people become godly parents who passed down to their children their love of being in a church youth group and part of a loving congregation
Yes, it was a very special day -- when so many wonderful memories were shared, pictures that made us laugh from times filled with fun. But most importantly, we all know that we are "one in the bond of love." And as one of their favorite songs states, "It only takes a spark to get a fire going and soon all those around will warm up to its glowing -- that's how it is with God's love, once you experience it, you want to sing it's fresh like spring -- You want to pass it on!"
That certainly is the case with this group -- they have passed it on, and are still passing it on today. To God be the Glory!
Carol Marsh of Albany is a former youth director, Sunday school teacher, assistant choir director and "whatever else the Lord put in my job description." She says that while the youth director job never paid anything in money, she is "continually reaping benefits and dividends from the time invested in these young people."