5 girls and a deacon walk into a biker bar. This may sound like the beginning to a bad joke, but no, it’s just youth group. This is one of the many events that I have experienced during my time at Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church. I have never been a very religious person, but during my time here, I have found a community.
Because of my age, the youth have become my community and the group with which I share some of my fondest memories. A lot of my favorite memories come from acolyting, like the time I was going to hit the bell and the mallet head flew off and almost hit Father Caleb. But the memories that stand out the most come from the great times I have had in youth group.
We had our weekly meetings that consisted of lots of different activities. Activities like Chopped. If you have ever seen the Food Network show Chopped, you know it is about cooking with difficult, random ingredients, so of course, that did not result in good food from groups of high schoolers, sorry to Deacon Chris and Jeff Dobrik who both got sick from the expired Ensure.
Youth group also meant sardines and charades, both of which were favorites among the group and played quite frequently. Let me tell you, nothing sparks fear in the heart more than playing sardines at night in an old, dark church.
We also had our annual Christmas parties where everyone—even some of the old members—would come, and we would spend hours playing games, doing white elephant, and eating lots of snacks.
While all of these were extremely fun, nothing beats the yearly trips we would take during the summer to celebrate the end of the school year. Some years we went zip lining, others we went up to Chicago and saw Cubs games. While youth group was always fun, we also tried to help out the Champaign community sometimes by shopping at Target for Toys for Tots, working at Empty Tomb, and making sack lunches.
While youth group and acolyting have helped me establish a community with the younger members and clergy of the church, the holiday times are what really made me feel like a part of the larger church community. Setting up for the holidays with events such as hanging of the greens never fails to bring the church closer. If you have never come to a hanging of the greens, I strongly recommend you do because it is a lot of fun with chili afterward.
Along with set up, the holiday evening masses always bring out a certain atmosphere of the church, the kind of atmosphere that really shows the community portion of it. It seems like you always meet someone who you have seen multiple times, but never said hi to. Being able to attend these evening masses has done a lot to strengthen my bond with the community of the church. Not only are evening masses a great way to engage with the church, but the receptions after the services are filled with all sorts of interesting foods. And not to mention the unsung hero of the church, the church punch.
Although we do not hold them anymore, the annual church picnics are some of the first memories I have of really interacting with the church and getting to know people. Not only are they important memories of my church experience, but they are some of my best memories from my childhood in general. Throughout my life, a lot of the best memories I have were because of the church community here at Emmanuel. Although religiously I do not really know what to think, I do know that the community within the church will always be an important part of my life.
I have learned a lot throughout my time here so far, like when Father Caleb taught me that there is a word for the term “prayered upon”…...that word is consecrated. But most importantly, I have learned that if you go to a biker bar after a great Cubs win with four other girls and a deacon, you will be placed in the back away from everyone else.
And to Lauren and Caroline, I have known you two for most of my life and have grown up around you guys. So as we all move on to the next parts of our journeys, I wish both of you the best of luck, and I can’t wait to see the changes both of you make in this world.