While many are still hitting the snooze buttons on their alarm clocks, the youth of First United Methodist Church are already up before 7 a.m., rising early to gather together for breakfast, fellowship and a time of devotion before they begin their school day.
This seemingly unnatural occurrence for teenagers happens every other Thursday morning at a local fast food restaurant, sometimes Bojangles, other times Hardees.
“We’ve been doing this for several years off and on,” said Jeff Swartz whose son Luke is one of the approximately 20 youth who attend the breakfast. “It used to be just for the middle school students because the high school students had to get to school earlier, but recently we added in the high school students, too, and it’s been going very well.”
“It helps them on their faith walk,” added Wendy Carr whose daughter Edye and son Spell also joins the group for breakfast. “It’s a fellowship opportunity for them, and they know they are always welcome to bring their friends. Today I think we had about four guests with us. We usually have a tremendous turnout.”
“I like coming to eat and to be with my friends; I like the fellowship,” remarked Luke. “Getting up this early is not the easiest part but it’s worth it.”
“It’s nice to have a good breakfast together, and I enjoy hearing the speakers,” added Edye.
“It’s a time for the youth to be together, and we have speakers come every time to share their Christian faith with the kids, to tell how Christ has worked in their lives,” explained Swartz. “It just helps get their day started off right.”
Yesterday morning Bill Starling, vice president of administration at Sampson Community College, joined the youth for breakfast. “Wendy [Carr] asked me to come out and speak to the youth, and I thought it sounded like a great opportunity,” said Starling. “I think it’s important to support the efforts the community makes for our young people, and I’m happy to do what I can to help them grow in their faith. It’s just one of those things that we want and need to do.”
Starling began by giving the group a little information about himself, like that he graduated from Clinton High in 1973 and that he was on the football team and in band during high school.
He also told them that, as someone born and raised in Sampson County, he knows how easy it is to be a person of faith here. “That’s one of the things about our community. You’re around people who are similar to you and share many of your beliefs so it’s easy to be a Christian here,” said Starling, adding that they shouldn’t become too casual in their Christian walk though.
“How are we to live as Christians? What is the best way to be a witness to others?” asked Starling of the group. Several of the youth responded by saying that how you live your life is a good way to witness. Starling agreed and encouraged them to be good friends and to be known as people of integrity, not deceit .
Starling, reading from Matthew 5, also shared with them Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and reminded them that as Christians Jesus calls them to be the salt of the earth.
“You know one of the reasons why your parents and your teachers want you to be in school?” asked Starling. “Because many of you are probably role models in your classes. Similarly, you are to be examples in the world for the greater good.”
Starling also acknowledged that being a teenager is not easy. “Don’t let anybody anybody tell you that the experiences you’re having aren’t real or life changing or unimportant.”
However, “as a young person, growing in Christ, it is important for you to understand what’s important,” noted Starling. “Life can present you with issues and problems that you don’t understand, and life is about sorting those things out. Age and experience will help in that understanding, but until then, just don’t sweat the small stuff.”
As the youth navigate this age’s culture as Christians, striving to be good witnesses while also dealing with the twists and turns that life inevitably brings, Starling shared with them the two main commandments Jesus said that his followers should live by. “Love God and love your neighbor,” said Starling, referencing scripture from the book of Mark. “All of the other principles to live by come from these two main commandments. If you can’t remember anything else, or if you’re struggling to understand Scripture, just remember that.”
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at email@example.com.