2002 Youth Ministry Annual Report - “An open letter to a congregation”

Greetings fellow members of Bethel,

The title of my report, “An open letter to a congregation,” is a take-off of a song by Living Color called “An open letter to a landlord”.  The theme of the letter is one that I believe has universal application to many congregations in our conference and synod.  What I keep hearing from numerous folks, both near and far, is that due to many circumstances (911, stock market, job losses, etc), there has been a cloud of doubt and insecurity that has descended on many of our congregations.  This has manifested itself in what I call “A spirit of meanness” in so many of our worshiping communities.

Now before we get our knickers in a bunch, I think it is of utmost importance to remember that in spite of all these things and even in spite of ourselves, God still works wondrous ministry through each and every one of us.  It’s in moments like these that we experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.  This has been one of those years.

As I enter my 19th year as full-time Youth Director of Bethel Lutheran Church, I’m pleased to share my reflections of this past year.  This has been an incredibly eclectic and electric year, filled with joys and celebrations as well as great challenges.  All in all, I am continually amazed at the faithfulness of God towards his people.  I am grateful for those of you who shared God’s love with me and my family in the year 2002 and I continue to pray for my fellow staff members and the leadership of Bethel.

This past year has once again been filled with many opportunities to learn, grow, share and serve.  Bethel has an awesome youth group:  As we minister to 4th graders all the way through college age, families and single adults, this is truly a place where “people are accepted for who they are, not necessarily just for who they should be.”  Our Youth Group Mission Statement: “Love Like Jesus: To Provide a place where youth are loved and accepted with Jesus as our example.”

We’ve had some great events and service projects including one youth Mission to Mexico Trip, an adult Mission to Mexico, our Common Ground “The Journey” tour to Southern California, beach trip, youth conventions (including the Western States youth gathering ), lock-ins, ski trips, our trips to San Francisco, great Sr High fellowships, inspiring Sunday School lessons, time cleaning the hiway, sorting at the 2nd Harvest Food Bank, and dozens more.  We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve played and we’ve worked, but most of all we’ve felt the love of Jesus in our midst.

We also continue to develop the ministry of  “The House” (you know, Bethel means the house or place of God).  We are currently offering several fellowship events throughout the year and hope to reintroduce the worship component again soon.

We are also very excited to have Laura Leonard on board as Bethel’s Children’s Ministry Coordinator.  This has allowed us to once again redefine our age groups for the under high school youth.  We now follow a structure that reflects the way we do our Sunday School program:  The 4th - 6th graders now participate in the elementary age events planned by Laura.  The 6th graders are also invited to join the 7th & 8th graders for Jr High group events.  We also have a dynamic Sr. High Group from 9th - 12th grade, and “The House” for 18 - 35 yr olds.  I think we have the finest programs and staff to be found anywhere.

Bethel is a profoundly caring community.  Probably the events that affected us the most this past year were the deaths in two of our active families.  In November we lost Eugene Koenig after a long and heroic fight, and then in December, Natalie Cannon’s dad, Jim, died after battling cancer for several years.  These passings were filled with great pain as well as great outpourings of love by the Bethel community.  I am convinced that these life trials are what call us together as the community of faith.  All the activities and events really just help provide the structure for us to care when it really counts.  We continue to lift up the families and friends of these loved ones.  May God’s peace continue to be showered around you.

As we head into the new year, I’m excited about another great season for Common Ground as well as Bethel’s participation in the ELCA National Youth Gathering in Atlanta this coming July.  Even more awesome than the great events and activities we plan are the many opportunities to share the love of Christ with each other.  We are also intent on helping our youth embrace Bethel’s Mission and Vision:  Invite & Welcome, Grow & Equip, and Care For & Serve.  All the while, continuing to provide an environment that accepts all for who they are right now.  We hopefully have a good chunk of time to work on who we should all be as we journey together.

On a personal level, I am committed to serving the youth and families with the same personal and professional integrity I have always prided myself on.  I am intent on supporting this congregation in a way that brings help to those struggling, that brings healing to those hurting, hope to those whose lives are clouded with uncertainty, and vision to those who have lost sight of their dreams.  I am concerned about my fellow staff-mates, pastors, and council members and ask that we all continue to support these folks as they lead us in ministry.  It would be awful presumptuous of me to think I could do this alone.  I obviously can’t, but that makes me soo excited about how God promises to guide all of us as we work together.

Once again, we have a great youth ministry team and an awesome youth group.  On behalf of our Children’s Ministry Director, Laura Leonard - our Jr High Youth Directors, Jill and Bob Burkhart - our Common Ground Director, Norita Hoegel - our Peer Ministers, Beth Coleman, Emily Larsen, Erika Arnold, Macie Klumper, and Jeanna Rogerson - our WWW staff, Davy Fields and David Morse - our Youth Ministry Chairperson,  Andrea Teed - Pastor Rick - Pastor Jim - and our many, many other volunteer staff, thanks for giving us the chance to serve another year.  It’s gonna be awesome!

            In Jesus’ Service,
                    Tom Hoegel, Youth Director