For one tenth grader at Prince of Peace, the renewed investment in Children, Youth & Family programming has made her feel more like a part of the church.

“During the pandemic the only way you were connected with the church was through a video of the church service and it’s just so hard to relate and feel like you’re actually there,” Sofie Sethi said. “When you actually go in person, you get to see other people, you get to be a part of a community and not isolated.”

In years past, it was a sure bet to find the youth group, also known as PoP Rocks, gathered in the youth room on Sunday mornings. However, now the high schoolers meet at a nearby coffee shop.

“What we do every Sunday is we check in to get used to things and talk as a group and get comfortable with each other,” Sethi said. “Then sometimes after that we’ll talk about important topics”  The group has explored topics like environmental challenges and LGBTQiA inclusion.

Early in 2023 the group talked about their New Year’s resolutions as a way of getting to know each other better and setting themselves up for the year. For Sethi, who is in tenth grade, meeting at the coffee shop has been a nice change from tradition. 

“It just feels, how do I put it, a little more comfortable,” Sethi said. “It’s just good to have those separate moments and then to connect with the church.”

Programming for high schoolers isn’t the only programming that has seen some changes this year. Taking inspiration from the name for the high schooler’s group, pre-K and elementary aged kids have the option of going to Faith Rocks with Pastor Melanie during the sermon every Sunday. As an added bonus, they leave with a rock with a sticker for the story of the week. 

Children can also be spotted helping out during the church service — as readers and serving communion, to name a few. The Spark Story Bible is also being used in services as a way to keep even the youngest worshippers engaged. 

“I feel like we’re getting some momentum. We’re getting our groove back, we’re going somewhere with children’s ministry,’” parent Lea Thornton said. “It’s been really great to see the kids excited about Sunday school.”

Thornton has two kids, one in the middle school group and one in elementary school. The middle school youth group, named God Rocks, gets together to talk about the highs and lows of their weeks and does an activity or two.

“Because the middle school group has their twice monthly Wednesday evening get-togethers, Pastor Peter started a thing for any parents who are free to go and just hang out. It has been really fun to do that,” Thornton said. 

The congregation as a whole may not be majority kids and high schoolers, but the congregation is an integral part of their experiences. 

Last summer, ten high schoolers went to Chicago for a week, a trip that wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity and support of the congregation. 

“It was my first trip doing something like that so that was really fun,” Sethi said. One highlight was a visit to the Lutheran School of Theology, Sofie reflected, “We did some praying, sang songs, played get to know you games and then we helped [in the pollinator] garden, which was really interesting.”

The youth also helped sort clothes for a thrift shop that supports a teen center while they were in Chicago, amid trips to iconic landmarks. 

These trips are more than just a chance for the high school aged members of Prince of Peace to visit a new city, for some, like Sethi, they are a chance to contribute to the mission of the church. 

“I think one big reason is it makes us feel like we’re doing something for the church,” Sethi said. “We go on these trips to speak good of our church in a way, but also to do projects and stuff.”

This summer, the youth group is planning a trip to Denver on a similar service learning trip. 

“I am looking forward to being in a new place. I’ve never been to Colorado. And any projects that we plan on doing because those are also very important to me,” Sethi said. “That’s one reason why I love our church. We try our best to find projects that help other people.”

Coming hand in hand with some of the other changes, have been intergenerational programs like Advent wreath making and Reformation Bingo.  “I think the intergenerational activities we do every now and then are important because it’s giving us an opportunity to be with all ages,” Sethi said. “That’s another big thing that the church has done to sew us together a little more.”

The energy church leadership has put into programming and ministry for children, youth and families has not gone unnoticed.   

“I just feel this year it’s been more directed,” Sethi said. “It has just felt different than other years. It has felt a little more like we’re welcome. I feel like there was one point where it felt like we were a little disconnected from the church. But I do appreciate how much more time people are putting into us. We wouldn’t be able to do much without all of this help.”

This story was compiled and written by Marta Hill, a journalism student at Northeastern University and Pastor Melanie’s daughter.