Published April 7, 2021
By GAIL LOWE
WAKEFIELD—Over the past year when the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses, organizations and households into lockdown, people found ways to carry on.
Zoom meetings became popular meeting places where all age groups could convene and enjoy the company of others or discuss important topics.
First Parish Congregational Church’s Youth Group, directed by Julie Bohn, closed down between March and May 2020 and reopened over Zoom. Through it all, youth leaders Brian Foster and Jacob Jackson have been by her side to keep the kids interested and entertained.
“When COVID-19 restrictions were updated and it was determined members could meet in person, the group closed out 2020 with a few weeks of in-person, socially distanced meetings,” Bohn said. Since then, the group has been meeting every other week with “great success.”
Bohn said adjustments have had to be made, including providing student members with hand sanitizer upon arrival. They also sanitize before games and are given plastic gloves, if necessary. Masks are also required.
“We ask members who have been exposed to the virus or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to not attend until they have been cleared by either quarantining for the recommended amount of time or have negative test results,” said Bohn.
Before, during and after every meeting, anything the members have come in contact with is disinfected. Because of the limited space in the youth room, meetings are held in the vestry. Members ensure their chairs are six feet apart, and siblings are asked to sit with one another to optimize space.
“We have also decided not to provide snacks or meals during Youth Group until we are specifically cleared by the Centers for Disease Control guidelines,” said Bohn.
The group has been most creative with the games they play. “There are a few games that are impossible to play socially distanced,” Bohn commented, “but we have been really creative with modifying other games to ensure that we are playing as safely as possible.”
These include games like socially distanced “hide and seek freeze tag” where members remain six feet apart while hiding. Their objective is to make their way to the vestry without getting “tagged.” Those who are “it” are given flashlights. Instead of being physically tagged, a member is considered to have been tagged if the person who is “it” shines the flashlight on them while the other is moving. Since the game is a blend of freeze tag and hide and seek, members are moving slowly so as not to run into each other. These measures ensure that distance requirements are met.
Bohn said that the members have remained “absolutely wonderful.”
One student said, “Youth Group is not only a wacky, wild and goofy bunch of loving friends, it’s also a family to grow in God’s Word with.” Another commented, “Youth Group creates a welcoming space to have fun, be yourself and learn about Jesus.”
Bohn called the members’ attitudes toward the pandemic “humbling and inspiring.”
“It’s extremely humbling to hear members say that when they face their week, all they have to do is get to Wednesday because they are looking forward to Youth Group and how it refuels them for the rest of the week. Of course it’s been a struggle, but I am consistently amazed by how each student is choosing to see the good in an otherwise difficult situation.”
Before joining the staff in September 2019, Bohn had already spent 18 months with the Youth Group as a volunteer leader. In that time, particularly when the youth pastor left and the volunteers continued running the Group, she had the opportunity to really connect with members, learn the ins and outs of running the Youth Group and brainstorm ideas for how they could optimize the benefits of youth sisters in Christ and how they could spread God’s word and His goodness.
“I think those on the hiring committee saw what God was doing in the Youth Group, how He was working with the volunteer leaders and how much more could be done if one was officially brought on as a staff member, especially someone who already had a strong and established relationship with the members and the church itself,” said Bohn. “I also think the hiring committee saw that I have a passion for teaching and helping youths, particularly those of middle and high school age, navigate a difficult world with the power of Christ.”
On Wednesday nights, members begin gathering at 6:30 and take time for fellowship. They then hang out and catch up on how they’re doing before heading upstairs to kick off the night with a game. The games—everything from crab soccer to cup stacking relay races—are primarily focused on team building and working together. In the works now is the creation of a Youth Group team that will serve the community. Projects underway involve helping the homeless, cleaning the environment and bringing God’s love to those unable to attend church.
“We also hope to one day implement a Youth Group worship band comprised of the many talented members,” said Bohn.
“Everything we do in youth group keeps the mission statement in mind, so our Wednesday night meetings are structured to fulfill those goals,” noted Bohn. Other goals include helping members find their place in the world through Jesus Christ.
“We have a lot of ideas, such as small group studies for middle and high school girls and boys, and developing a junior leadership program where middle school students can learn what it means to be a leader in Christ. It’s a way for us to fulfill part of our mission, which is to create a safe place for each member to grow closer with God while deepening connections with other members as brothers and sisters in Christ, by strengthening our relationships with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Bohn. “For those looking to delve into scripture, we also have the early riser’s Bible study,” she added.
Members meet the last Sunday of the month at 9 a.m. in the youth room for breakfast and hot cocoa. During their time together, they discuss the book of the Bible chosen for that month and discuss notes, questions, observations and personal reflections.
The church also hosts fellowship nights, which are usually held Fridays from 7-9 p.m. The nights alternate between boy’s night and girl’s night and a youth group-wide fellowship night.