For many congregations, a summer service trip for the youth group is a time-honored tradition. Sharon Mennonite Church in Plain City is following that tradition, but with a difference. The service, spiritual growth and group bonding which often occur during a summer service trip are still present, but the travel part is not.
This summer for the second year in a row, the youth group at Sharon Mennonite participated in something called the FUEL Work Camp right in their home community. (FUEL is an acronym for the youth group’s name, which is based on the slogan “fully understanding eternal life.”)
During work camp, participants stayed at the church during the week and worked on projects for people in the local community. Some of the projects the group worked on include building wheelchair ramps, mobile home repair and renovation, landscaping, house painting, sidewalk installation, and work for the local food pantry.
In addition to adult leaders, work camp participants include youth in middle school and high school, and post-high young adults. This summer during the week of June 17-23 about 60 people were involved in the work camp, including the adult leaders. Sharon Mennonite’s youth pastor, Jared Chase, noted that 43 youth and young adults participated in work camp this year, including about 20 guests. Those guests are members of other church youth groups in the area, as well as some youth who are not part of any other youth group.
In 2015 the Sharon youth group participated in a work camp run by Jackson Area Ministries, and they spent the week working on projects to benefit people in that community. After that experience, participants from Sharon Mennonite said, “We can do this on our own.” The next summer they held the first work camp based at the church.
One reason the program has worked so well is that the Sharon congregation has adults in the congregation who have expertise in some of the projects. For example, one member of the congregation has designed the plans for the wheelchair ramps and ordered the materials needed for those projects. In addition, the congregation has engaged local businesses in the effort, and they have donated some of the materials.
While the work accomplished during work camp is important, it is far from the only purpose of the week spent together. Sharon’s work camp also has a discipleship component. Each year work camp has a theme, often based on a Christian song. The themes for the past two years were “Do Something” and “Here’s my Heart, Lord.” Each day of work camp, participants have devotions together, and small groups meet together.
Youth Pastor Jared Chase noted that not only do the youth participate in devotional times, but they also lead devotions. Small groups take turns leading, often presenting a skit and a brief meditation.
“Our hope is to include other Ohio Conference churches in this experience,” said Jared Chase. If you are interested in learning more about Sharon’s missional work camp or you would like help setting up a missional work camp in your community, contact Jared Chase at firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-873-8290 (Sharon Mennonite’s phone number).
If you would like to hear more about Sharon’s work camp, you can listen to an Ohio Conference Cast podcast featuring an interview with Jared Chase, as well as Ben Yoder, summer intern at Sharon Mennonite; KC Theiss, an elder at Sharon Mennonite; and Johnathan Beachy, a newly licensed nurse. The podcast is titled “Missional Work Camp — You can do this!” This podcast and all other Ohio Conference Cast podcasts can be found on the Ohio Conference website: https://ohiomennoniteconference.org/podcasts.