When I was a kid, my family went to church at Hillsboro Friends. It’s where I attended Sunday school, morning service, evening service, youth group, open gyms, Bible studies, movie nights, skate nights, potlucks, work days, hymn sings, picnics, birthday parties, New Years parties, Christmas parties, harvest parties, committee meetings, Bible quizzing, fund-raisers, lock-ins, sleep-overs. Camp fires. All-nighters. For me, church was family. It was life. And my life happened at Hillsboro Friends Church.
That’s not necessarily the kind of experience our students are having. Some attend Sunday school at Newberg Friends and youth group at the Nazarene church. Or they skip Sunday school and go to first service. Or they sleep in late and come to second service. Some play volleyball with us on Sunday afternoons or quiz with us on Sunday evenings but worship on Sunday mornings at Newberg Foursquare. Or Newberg Christian. Or Northside. Or nowhere in particular.
On Tuesday nights, our high school youth group is combined with North Valley Friends and 2nd Street Community. On Wednesday nights, West Chehalem joins with the rest of us for middle school youth group. It’s a mess of kids. Anywhere from 35 to 60 on a given Wednesday.
And it’s messy.
Doing ministry together.
A high school student was sitting next to me in the Suburban, one of the church vehicles we used to get students to Neahkahnie Mountain for a hike last Saturday. I made a joke about how at our weekly lunch meetings for area youth pastors, it took us a long time to figure out whose kid he was. He did Bible quizzing at Sherwood, but his family had been at North Valley for a month and at Newberg Friends on Easter. He was at several youth events that 2nd Street put on, and he always showed up for middle school youth group. At that lunch, we’d argued about who got to claim him.
He’s a high school sophomore now, and he started to explain. But that wasn’t the point. I wasn’t trying to make him feel guilty about not having a home church. I wanted him to hear that in that conversation three years ago, we’d all tried to claim him. He was our kid.
Which gets to the heart of the mess.
For lots of reasons—theological, cultural, denominational—we’re not very good at coordinating our efforts, at supporting one another (let alone worshiping together). We don’t always trust one another. And the finances can be sticky (not to mention all the other sticking points). But we agree on one thing. We are the church. And these students—every last one of them—is ours.