The Aroma of Middle Schoolers
I could smell it once I walked in. Yes, the building was inspiring– pale light from the stained glass turning my eyes upward to arches and spires. Faint laughter welcomed me better than any doormat could, and the coffee whispered promises of staying awake until dawn.
But, it was the scent that led me deeper and deeper into the church. I, like a bloodhound, tried to find its source until I realized that there wasn’t one. Instead, the entire church was saturated with a wild, liturgical scent. Someone who had studied aromatherapy may have attributed it to old books and wood, but I recognized it as the scent of theology. The yellowing books and faded brown shelves were testaments to the church’s long acquaintance with it.
However, when I entered the basement, young boys and girls seemed to be unaware of the grand liturgy of Calvary Memorial Church. Amid the doctrinal statements and creeds, they broke into boisterous laughter. Standing next to the pews and hymnals, they wore their Nyan Cat sweatshirts and soccer cleats. The Calvary Memorial Middle School Youth Group did not seem to be aware of the spires and stained glass, the coffee and the communion table. They didn’t seem to fit in.
But they smelled like theology.
Calvary has a long history of theological insistence. The first pastor, Dr. Louis Talbot, would later establish the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. The current staff has a long and impressive list of credentials, ranging from beginning a conference for pastor-theologians to earning a Doctorate in Philosophy. The staff has a love of God and a clear desire to know Him.
The middle school youth group is no exception. Many students didn’t seem aware that they were remarkably different than other groups. Just like we cannot recognize our own scent, they didn’t have the ability to smell the theology on them. It was not until they were forced to turn their attention to their hope in God that they recognized the aroma.
Hope in the Face of Grief
Over the summer, one of their fellow students passed away. She was an active member of the group and great friend to many of the seventh-grade girls. Unknown to anyone, she was struggling with depression and took her own life.
Any group would struggle with that tragedy, and Calvary was no exception. Many young girls had lost a friend, and a young boy had lost his sister. The face of the tragedy was ugly and twisted. But, there was hope; she was a believer. With that knowledge, the students grieved differently. Although knowing that she was with the Lord did not minimize their feelings, they remained confident that she was now free of her pain. It was their theology that allowed them to mourn with joy and grieve with hope.
Socializing and Structure
Calvary Memorial Church’s insistence on theology is not only cognitive recognition. On the average youth group night, the students hung out until Pastor Joey called them into the meeting room. There, some openly held pens and notebooks while others hid their cell phones inside their sweatshirts. Pastor Joey had a unique ability: he managed to explain how difficult topics related to their lives. But, the message did not end with simple acceptance. The students were cognizant enough to poke and prod it, relating it to their own narrative.
“Many youth ministers often talk about bringing the “cookies” down to the lower shelf for young people and I’ve found middle schoolers are extremely sharp. You can actually teach them deep theology, you can teach them deep Bible, you can teach them more than many people think you can do. For me, instead of taking cookies and putting them on the lower shelf, I’m trying to find the best cookies and make them tastier for students.”
This archetypal structure has been around for about as long as Cavalry has existed. Calvary began in 1917 in a different location, but the scent of theology has followed them. Although the youth group has not been around for 100 years, the church has met for that long, and middle school students have always been encouraged to attend.
And attend they have. The middle school youth group has grown over the past several years and students continue to spread their scent. Whether they are meeting in fellowship or listening to the message, the group is no exception to the overwhelming scent of theology at Calvary Memorial.
For information on Calvary’s Fall Retreat