Nine high school students experienced life in a large metropolitan area and discovered things about themselves and others in the process.
In June, the First Presbyterian Church youth group spent a week living at First Presbyterian Church of Ferguson, Missouri, about 15 minutes from downtown St. Louis.
While there the youth and their three chaperones helped at various places, including three different crisis nursery centers, a soup kitchen in downtown St. Louis called The Bridge; a local low-income retirement home; a senior center; some community gardens; and a ministry called Righteous Rides that helps supply vehicles for missionaries on furlough.
From left, Logan Prescott, Jacob Amhof, Jerry Rodgers (above), Brady Anderson, Andrew Johnson, Molly Yetmar, Nate Eastwood, Austin Hill(above), Coletyn Nelson, Sara Hill, and Isolda Gonzales stand at the front of the Presbyterian church where they stayed.
The church in Ferguson regularly hosts groups in their fellowship hall and arranges service opportunities for their guests throughout the St. Louis metro.
The Rev. Austin Hill, associate pastor of youth and young adults at First Presbyterian Church, talked about the trip in which the youth did urban work in the city.
"We spent time working in crises nurseries," he said. The nurseries are designed for families who are in crises and cannot care for their children for a period of time, or children who have experienced child abuse.
About Austin Hill
A California native, Austin Hill knew about the West Coast and the East Coast but little about the Midwest when he and his wife, the Rev. Sara Hill, moved here in 2009. He attended college in Washington State and seminary in New Jersey. She is a native of Pennsylvania. They have been married two years.
"When we moved out here to the Midwest I felt I very much enjoyed it here. People were so friendly and hospitable." While the Hills were trying to line up a home, a couple in their new church took them in for seven weeks. "The hospitality continues to amaze us," he said.
"We never imagined we would be able to own a home right out of grad school. Things are so affordable here compared to Philadelphia or San Diego." For the same amount of rent on a one bedroom apartment in New Jersey you can buy a three bedroom house with a front and back yard here, Hill said.
At age 26 he believes he is the youngest ordained minister in the North Central Iowa Presbytery. Being so young he said it is difficult at times to know when to be a friend and when to be a minister to the youth.
One of his hobbies is video games which relates well with the youth. "It is amazing how many of these young guys have an Xbox and they play it online," he said. "It is a whole avenue of ministry to students that I never anticipated."
He also likes to ride his motorcycle. "Last night I went for a motorcycle ride after I was done at the church and it was such a beautiful night outside," he said. "It was a clear night and I could see all the stars. I could see the Milky Way. Out in the field there were tons and tons of lightening bugs. I've never seen anything like it."
"We did some landscaping in community centers and things," he said. "We spent time in homeless shelters and soup kitchens." The last day the group took the day off from working. "We celebrated the end of the week by going to Six Flags in St. Louis."
The group also visited the Gateway Arch, the Galleria mall and Ted Drewesa renowned frozen custard stand situated on Route 66.
The group will be busy the rest of the summer too. In July some of the youth will be headed to the Presbyterian Church's 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis. While there they will also visit the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Science Center of Minnesota. Later in July they will be headed to Purdue University for the Presbyterian Youth Triennium. Every three years Presbyterian high school youth from across the country gather for a week of fun and educational activities. In additional to recreation, they also learn about their relationship with God and what it means to be connected to a congregation, Hill said.
In August the youth group has a garage sale to raise funds.
The youths are involved in the local church as well. A couple high school students serve on the youth and young adult ministry team. There is even a high school student serving on the church elders. "He has a full vote like everyone else does," Hill said.
Hill works primarily with high school students. Another staff member works with younger students. "I'm trying to develop more of a college and young adult ministry," he said.
His work is not just fun and games. Within the first 10 months he helped some of the youth cope with two suicides of friends they knew. Dating, sex, marriage, friendship are some of the other topics covered at youth meetings.
The main activity of the group is the Wednesday evening 707 Live, so named because they meet at seven minutes past seven at the church's Shalom Center.