New youth minister plans to show, not tell faith lessons
Dartmouth resident Wendy Reardon said one of her greatest gifts is remembering what it’s like to not fit in.
With that experience, she’s hoping to provide a space in town where all kids feel comfortable being themselves.
“I just want to make an investment in their lives,” she said.
Recently, Reardon was hired to lead the Youth Ministry program at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Padanaram, much to the delight of Rev. Scott Ciosek.
“This has been one of our big dreams as a parish in the nine years since I’ve been here,” he said. “This is not only for our own families who are here, but to reach out to the wider community.”
In addition to bolstering services at St. Peter’s, Reardon provides similar assistance to St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Marion.
“They're led by two very different guys,” she said with a laugh. “But still, both are headed in the same direction.”
In an era where constant use of electronics and social media can negatively impact mental health, Reardon said it’s important to have a place where young people can gather to share their perspectives and find their faith.
“They can never get away,” she said. “They’re being bombarded with everything — many things that aren’t even real. I think we as a church can bring some equilibrium back and create this safe space.”
Reardon added that getting more young people involved is also crucial in ensuring the church continues to grow.
“Without the youth in the church, you lose that vibrancy,” she said.
Prior to her passion for youth ministry, Reardon worked in hospitality. Six months after she stopped working to raise her first child, Reardon realized that she was starting to lose her mind.
Looking for some volunteer work, she began assisting at the South Dartmouth Congregational Church as a Sunday School teacher.
“I would do the lesson for five minutes and my own thing for 40 minutes,” she said.
From there, she found her calling of connecting youth with faith.
Reardon has served in a similar capacity at churches in the Westborough area, setting up programs where she said she is still connected with those she helped out.
“I’m still writing letters of recommendation for many of those kids,” Reardon said.
When it comes to presenting lessons and stories from the bible, Reardon said she prefers to take a show, don’t tell, approach rather than the traditional classroom setting she said is associated with faith-based learning.
“It’s about discovering who you are as a person of faith,” she said. “You can read the Bible and learn about these historical people, but it’s more important to know how it applies to you today.”
The Dartmouth resident recalled how at a previous church she went about telling the “Parable of the Good Samaritan,” in which a stranger helps someone in need when others wouldn’t.
For her lesson, she said she led a group of kids on a trip where they passed by a number of people trying to stop them for assistance. In each situation, which she set up, she would continue to drive on, only for the kids to get more upset with her decision to pass them.
The only “stranger” she helped was at the end of the journey, only because he was directly in the way. Once the group got into a clearing, all those they passed by came out one-by-one to then tell the biblical story.
“Slowly, but surely, it dawned on each kid's face what I was teaching them,” Reardon said. “I did that 10 years ago, and to this day I still see adults and kids who participated telling me that they’ll never forget about that parable and what it means.”
It’s this kind of outside thinking, Ciosek said, that fits directly into the mantra of his parish.
“We want to be a church for people who don’t like church,” he said. “It’s a whole new expression to what a church can look like.”
Each lesson is part of a larger theme Reardon plans to teach throughout the year. As she begins at St. Peter’s, that theme surrounds discipleship.
To kick things off, the church will host an outdoor mass and barbecue, along with a fishing jamboree at Apponagansett Beach on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 10 a.m.
“It happens that Jesus’ first two disciples were fishermen,” Reardon noted. “Not only will we learn about them, but about what it means to be a fisherman, the environment, and all of creation.”
This will be just one of many “adventure meetings” that will be chosen by the group of kids, she said.
Other plans include intergenerational workshops where teens and older church members can pair up and learn from each other.
Additionally, there will be “topic meetings” where kids can meet to discuss their problems or what’s going on in the world and how that ties together with faith.
Once the youth program is more established, Reardon said, the plan is to take kids on mission trips that they plan out themselves. At her last church, she said her groups have gone to places like West Virginia or Costa Rica.
“It’s about what they’re passionate about, what they want to be involved in,” she said. “They’re great opportunities to help out and see how others live.”
Reardon added that kids of all backgrounds are welcome to join and share their ideas and experiences, including kids who are members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“No matter who you are, no matter what you’re born into, we all have God inside us,” she said.
For more information about the new group, email Reardon at FaithFormationSaintPeters@gmail.com