By Rev. Terri Jane Stewart

This December, I thought I was going to relax a bit and recover from shoulder surgery. This is the first time I have only had responsibilities to incarcerated youth rather than responsibilities to youth and a church. That felt like a time of ease! I would simply be responsible for Sunday evening worship and Christmas morning presence along with photography. 

Easy peasy.

Then one of my volunteers at Echo Glen Children’s Home said, “The youth at Echo aren’t all going to receive gifts from people this year. We should do a gift drive.”

My insides shook because gift packets for 60 kids is a challenge when you are starting one month prior to Christmas day. But my volunteer, Alison Takenaka, was confident she could raise 60 packets. I also felt like I could persuade some churches to donate items to the building of the packets.

Then I did a site visit to Naselle Youth Camp and I was saddened. They had just released their previous chaplain and my intern, Cathy Reiter of the Metropolitan Community Church, was the only reliable religious presence on grounds. I asked them if they wanted a Christmas worship service and if they needed gifts for their youth.

The answer was, “YES!”

Volunteer Janiece Jenkins takes Polaroid photos of Santa posing with kids while the youth watch the magic of Polaroids developing.

Well, I went from an easy Advent to one filled with organizing a worship team for Naselle (the closest UM church is in Astoria, OR), and committing to 125 gift packets for youth. That is not the relaxing recovery I envisioned when I scheduled my Dec. 3 surgery!

Leaning into God’s leading is not necessarily easy or comfortable. Do it anyway.

I used social media and personal contacts to recruit teams. I even leveraged information from my district superintendent, Rev. Rich Lang! And the church came through in a big way. The hands, the feet, the noses, the everything…we all worked together to create a Christmas I will never forget. 

Of course the items were raised, but perhaps the most touching moment for me was the Saturday before Christmas when we did the worship service at Naselle. There were about 80 people worshiping together (about 50 youth + volunteers + staff). It was, and I quote a participant, “The most people we have seen in the chapel in 19 years.” Nineteen years!

We prayed, sang, listened, clapped, celebrated, and had communion together. It was amazing. I put the bulk of the message into my friend’s (from Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Zion in Seattle) hands. They led the youth expertly under Bro. C. J. Dudley’s dynamic spoken word message. I was tearful. The youth were not tearful, they were excited!

Between the work at Naselle, Echo, and King County Detention, my “recuperation time” dwindled. What I may have lost in rest, I gained in heart-expanding, grace-filled moments. I am grateful to everyone who participated:

  • Donating items to youth at Naselle and Echo Glen: Seabold UMC, Goldendale UMC, Olympia First UMC, Port Orchard UMC, the We-SEW Collective at The Rockwood Center, and the many individual financial donors
  • Saturday worship at Naselle: Worship team from Ebenezer AMEZ, including Bro. Barnes, Bro. C.J. Dudley, Bro. Dudley, Bro. Jackson, Mother Jones, Sis. Jackson, and Min. Thomas. Worship leader and participants from Astoria UMC/Grey’s River UMC, Rev. Rebecca Patterson and Mary Steller. Worship leader and participants from Camp Magruder, Troy Taylor, Allyson Taylor, and Aura Taylor. Worship leader and my Naselle intern, Cathy Reiter of the MCC of Portland. Anda big thank you to Fairwood Community UMC for lending us their van.
  • Sunday worship at King County Juvenile Detention Center: Worship team from FAME, including Pastor Carey Anderson, Gregory Banks, Lynne Oliphant, Vida Sneed, Oystain Sinclair, Hurd Donald, Sherrill Vaughan, Robert Baker, Bertram Williams, Denise Williams, Rhonda Buchannan, Charlotte Grady, Diana Baker, Jasmine Gartrell Hall, and Javon Gartrell Hall. Worship leader and my KCJDC intern, Jermell Witherspoon of Liberation UCC and volunteers Safia Ahmed and Joe Gillis.
  • Christmas morning at King County Juvenile Detention Center: Thank you to Janiece Jenkins of Downtown Cornerstone Church and Jermell Witherspoon of Liberation UCC for helping youth have a joy filled morning.

This was truly a time that brought together churches and communities across the divides of geography and theology. It revealed the beauty of the church universal. That is what brought tears to my eyes.

We are the body of Christ and parts of one another. Together, we can and do transform the world making disciples of Love along the way.

Amen and amen!

Rev. Terri Jane Stewart is the Director of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition—a Task Force of the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

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