In my community, it’s officially the end of the year. Schools get out in the next couple of weeks and it seems that between now and then, there’s a steady onslaught of end-of-the-year festivities, including parties. In some instances, students have parties in nearly every class to celebrate surviving another school year and to usher in the start of summer vacation.
This mindset often seeps into the church, especially ones like mine, where summer activities are greatly reduced in order to allow leaders to take a break and encourage families to spend time together. Inevitably, at the end of the year, I get asked, “When’s the high school ministry’s end-of-the-year party?” to which I respond, “There’s not.”
At first, people are confused by this. “Don’t you want to celebrate the year?” they ask.
Well… Sort of.
I absolutely want to celebrate and name the ways God has been at work among us during the year. But I don’t want to celebrate the end of the year and the start of summer vacation. I don’t want to promote a graduation-like mentality that subtly suggests that when the weekly program year concludes, teens have graduated from both church and their faith.
After all, the end of the school year is not the end of a student’s faith… Or at least, I hope it’s not.
Given this, I don’t want to do anything that might suggest teens should be more excited about the end of the year than they are about the beginning of the year or that they should eagerly anticipate the weeks we don’t meet. I don’t want to communicate that the only thing “fun” we do in our ministry is an end-of-the-year party. I don’t want to encourage teens to shelve their faith for two days let alone two months.
In subtle ways, end-of-the-year parties at church encourage all of these things.
So we don’t have them.
Instead, we ritualize and mark the year-end transition without celebrating it as an end. We honor our graduates. We reflect on the year and name the ways in which God has moved among us. On the final programming night of the school year, we say, “The fun will continue during our summer gatherings and trips. See you in a couple weeks!” Then we work hard to promote our summer gatherings and get teens to them. When the fall comes and our weekly programming begins, we throw a start-of-the-year party to celebrate the beginning of our weekly program year and anticipate all that God will do in the upcoming year.
In this way, even our celebrations invite teens to be part of an ongoing faith journey – one that has different seasons but never a finish line.