The afternoon of Sunday, September 22 was sunny and unseasonably warm – even for the final official day of summer. In the spacious, tree-lined parking lot of St. Alban’s Church in Oakland/Franklin Lakes, a group of young people from across the diocese had gathered, enjoying the fine weather as they took part in icebreaker activities led by Pop Up Youth Ministry Fellows Matt Porowski and Shannon Molnar.
The final icebreaker ended with the kids lined up by age, from the oldest high schooler to the youngest middle schooler. Then Molnar and Porowski had them count off into teams, so that each team was composed of a mix of ages.
For the next hour or so, the teams competed in rowdy and sometimes goofy outdoor games, such as “Human Tic Tac Toe,” involving a relay race in which teams competed to complete a giant tic tac toe board on the lawn formed of hula hoops, and the hands-free “Pantyhose Bowling.” (To understand this game, it’s best to look at the photos in the gallery below; you’ll recognize it when you see it.)
After a closing game of “Hungry Hippo,” kids and adult chaperones all went inside to the parish hall for a dinner of tacos served family-style. Blue, green and white tablecloths identified tables for middle schoolers, high schoolers and adults, so that everyone could socialize in their age group. Before eating, Porowski led the group in singing a grace set to the tune of the “Spiderman” theme song.
The event concluded back outside, gathered around a campfire in the twilight. As the kids toasted marshmallows and munched on s’mores, Porowski and Molnar asked for their feedback on the day’s activities and their hopes for future events. The kids did not hold back, responding with many enthusiastic suggestions.
Their enthusiasm was apparent to the adults to whom they described the event afterwards. Lisa Webb, a parent at All Saints’ Church in Millington, said her 11-year-old son told her, “The games were fun and I enjoyed it a lot.”
Kristen Lee chaperoned a group of seven high school students from Christ Church, Ridgewood where she serves as Children and Youth Ministries Director. She said that while a few in her group were initially hesitant about attending, by the end of the evening they all said they had a great time and look forward to going again:
“It really was a great time.”
“My favorite part was having the meal together and all the high school kids got to sit together.”
“I’m disappointed I can’t go to the next one in October, but I’m totally going to the one in November!”
“Our first Pop Up Youth Ministry gathering exceeded our expectations!” said Anthony Briggs, Executive Director of Cross Roads Camp and Retreat Center, who has been involved in planning the Pop Up Youth Ministry from the beginning, and is responsible for supervising the Youth Fellows.
“The turnout, enthusiasm and energy were remarkable. I especially loved hearing both youth participants and adult leaders talking about how much they are looking forward to future Pop Up gatherings! I am excited to see the new Pop Up Youth Ministry initiative grow and witness the Holy Spirit’s plan unfold.”
Porowski, one of the two Youth Fellows, said, "I was always hopeful we would have as many young people come out and experience Pop Up as possible, but I did not expect such a great turnout for the first event.
"As with any group, there were the shy ones who tried to stand off to the side as much as possible, but as the afternoon progressed, they got more and more involved with each of the games.
"I was ecstatic to hear all of the wonderful things the youth wanted out of this program and that they all wanted to come back in the future. I'm excited to see how Pop Up continues to grow and nurture these young people as they begin to navigate life."
The Rev. Kathryn King, Rector of St. Alban’s, Oakland/Franklin Lakes, said, “It was a bit like Christmas morning to host the first Pop Up Youth Ministry event. Lots of hearts, hands, and hopes went into the multiple year planning and it was finally here popping up all around us.”
“There is always some anxiousness that goes along with launching something new,” King continued. “Youth Ministry needs to capture support from youth and adults in order to succeed. Both groups were well represented and by the time parents were arriving for pick-up it was great to hear kids telling their parents about the dates of the upcoming events and their intention to participate. I think we have hit on a model that can evolve and return Youth Ministry to a place of strength in our diocesan offerings.”
For the October event, Pop Up Youth Ministry will go to Cross Roads to participate in the 5th Annual Rally for Cross Roads & Intergenerational Retreat, the weekend of October 4-6.
To learn more about Pop Up Youth Ministry upcoming events, visit dioceseofnewark.org/youth.
For questions, contact the Pop Up Youth Ministry Fellows, Matt Porowski and Shannon Molnar, at firstname.lastname@example.org.