This past weekend at the Refuge for All Saints’ Sunday we had our own little canonization service, and honored some perhaps previously overlooked saints, such as beloved coaches and teachers, Brenda Kegans, 9th grader Taylor Ledbetter, youth group alum Chris Vardy, and Dave Alvarado.
We gathered in the chapel and talked about how in the Methodist tradition, a saint isn’t always someone famous; it is anyone who was living a life full of sanctifying grace, transforming grace. A saint is a person who lived their lives in pursuit of Christ, and worked towards the continuation of God’s kingdom on earth.
The saints in our lives are people who model for us what it means to be a Christian, who point us towards Jesus, who love us and shape us and remind us of God’s grace for us. I talked to the teenagers about how there are people all around them who are working towards God’s kingdom and leading them along the path to Jesus.
As part of our time, we had them take a few minutes and think of who might be a “patron saint” in their lives. Who was it that was role-modeling for them, transforming them, shaping them to be more like Jesus through their love and discipleship?
We ended the night with our little canonization. We sang a hymn, prayed together, and then, one by one, kids came up to the altar in the chapel, “lit” (i.e. turned on) a little electric votive candle and canonized people. One after the other, kids came up and honored the simple, faithful love of those around them:
“For Saint Coach Harris, for showing me how to put God first”
“For Saint Mrs. J, for always being there for us to talk to”
“For Saint Taylor, for showing me how to be a better person”
“For Saint EJ, for teaching me how to live”
“For Saint Dave Alvarado, for showing me that my faith didn’t have to look like everyone else’s”
I’m not going to lie, they got to me. The image of dozens of teenagers, filling an altar with little electric candles in honor of those who have loved and led them, youth pastors and parents and volunteers and coaches and siblings and friends, some of them gone, some of them still with us, will stick with me for a long time. The legacy of love felt so tangibly by the teenagers in the room was such a powerful reminder of why the work we do matters.
We all need people, in all periods of our lives, to show us the way, to remind us that we’re loved, to role model for us what we could grow into being, but never, never is that more important than when we’re teenagers. The way you live your faith, the way you respond to young people, is teaching them more than you could ever imagine.
Dave gets the shout-out in the title of this blog because it was his canonization that first made me start tearing up. Up until this school year, I only knew Dave through The Gathering and a Grace Group, but I had never really gotten him to hang out with our young people.
Over the summer, I recruited Dave to be the “outsider” voice for our Youth Ministry Innovation Team. For the kick-off of the lab, Dave agreed to spend a weekend in Austin with the rest of the team, including two teenagers.
One of those teenagers, a thoughtful, bright, 9th grader named Garin, wound up spending a lot of time talking to and listening to Dave, first as a fellow Bass player, then as a person who had been where Garin was, who thought about faith the way Garin did, who looked at Garin and said, “Yeah, man, me too, I have those questions too, I wonder those things too, here’s what I’ve learned about it.”
Dave wasn’t a youth guy; he was doing me a favor by agreeing to be on the team. And, when he did I’m sure he was imagining just a few extra meetings in his already church-meeting-loaded schedule. I’m sure he could have never imagined Garin taking the candle off the altar and saying his name.
I cried through those kids saying names because I could imagine how few of the people they mentioned had any idea that their acts of love had made such a difference. And I cried because I remembered the people that had made that kind of difference for me.
The things that teenagers mentioned when they said these names were not extraordinary acts of holiness and sacrifice; they were acts of simple, faithful care, and love. Things any one of us could do — and probably already have. Love the young people in your life, show up for them, remind them that you care. You have no idea what difference it could make.
For all the saints who shaped us, we are so grateful: for Saint EJ, for Saint Brenda, for Saint Erika, for Saint Brian, and for Saint Dave, we are so grateful for you and your faithfulness. We are also grateful for these teenagers — and and for those who will someday call them “saint,” too.
Director of Youth Ministries