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Esther for a new generation

Transferring old stories to young minds at Presbyterian Youth Triennium

July 27, 2010

A blue and grey charcoal image of a woman standing in a field with a man below her.

“Esther” by Marc Chagall —Graphic furnished by Presbyterian Youth Triennium

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.

Participants at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium have been talking about answering God's call in their lives, under the triennium theme "For Such a Time as This."

Rich Richards, who wrote the Small Group Manual for the July 20-24 event here, had his own call experience with the manual. "This was a Moses moment for me," he said. "Quite literally."

A member of the Triennium Design Team called him, asking if he would consider writing the manual. They called Richards because they knew of his integration of the visual arts in worship, programming, and youth retreats. Small groups are a key component of triennium, which draws thousands of Presbyterian teens to the Purdue campus here every three years.

"I think you might have the wrong number," he told them.

They assured him they knew exactly who he was and called him specifically because they wanted a manual that would be arts-focused.

Richards said he experienced three different emotions that led him to accept the call: doubt, fear and confidence — not confidence in himself alone, but confidence in what the Spirit had been doing in his life the last few years.

"You might not think doubt, fear, and confidence would bring someone to say 'yes,' but it did for me," he said.

Richards quickly became excited about the challenge. He is dyslexic and has other learning delays, so the opportunity to offer participants a different experience in small groups — particularly for people who have similar learning delays and conditions as he does — was a challenge into which he dove head first.

This manual incorporates, in addition to visual arts, opportunities to use other senses and styles of learning, such as physical movement and tactile expression.

Both youth and adult participants really enjoyed this year's small group experience. 

Samantha Gavin, a youth participant from Pittsburgh said of her small group: "We broke into five smaller groups and read the section on Esther and the questions we had made it feel like you were there. I understood the story a whole lot better. It was a lot better than if we would have just read the Bible story through."

Small group leaders who have led small groups at many different conferences really appreciate this manual. "It fits the theme well and really flows into worship seamlessly, one leader said. "The arts components are opening conversation channels quickly."

Each group was given a small artist’s mannequin to use in sharing time. Richards bought one at an IKEA store because he thought that he could somehow, someday, use it with his youth group. "An idea arose for sharing time — if you hand someone the mannequin and say, 'use this to show how you feel right now,' it allows everyone to participate at their own level."

Some people will talk about it as they manipulate the mannequin to reflect their day. Others will work silently and then just hold the mannequin up as if to say, "you figure it out." But the small artist’s mannequin offers everyone a way to share without having to speak.

Richards, a 1996 graduate of PC(USA)-related The College of Wooster, majored in music and minored in art history. He is currently director of youth and young adult ministries at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, N.J., but has recently accepted a call to be director of music and worship arts at Alamance Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, N.C.

The Rev. Marci Auld Glass is pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.

  1. I love this idea and I teach old people..they need to hear this story anew. Is this manual for sale as a teaching tool for other groups in the church? I hope the youth got the message of 'call'. It is so important today for people to really understand and be open to their call.

    by Rosella McQuain

    July 29, 2010

  2. As a PYT 2010 participant (and an old college acquaintance of Rich Richards), I can attest that the small group activities were the best example of Howard Gardner's "Multiple Intelligence Theory" I have ever seen used at a Presbyterian youth conference. From the mannequin described in the article to interpretation of visual arts to kinetic movement to recreate scenes from the Biblical narrative, Richards designed a program that virtually guaranteed that every person would be able to participate and, thereby, be heard. The level of comfort Richards' curriculum allowed made it possible for genuine discussion and exchange of ideas amongst young people of every developmental stage, who might otherwise have remained silent or not participated.

    by Rev. Matthew Camlin

    July 29, 2010

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