The low roar of a typical Synod School lunch last week gave way to a dancing, smiling ― and slightly wobbling ― throng of junior high school youth performing in a brief flash mob for delighted, surprised diners.

About a dozen youth sprang into action Thursday (July 26) just after noon, dancing to the catchy sound of Family Force 5’s “Wobble” as a way to surprise the 650 or so other diners, said Mindy Vande Brake, youth director at First Presbyterian Church in Foley, Minn.

“We wanted to do something epic and fun, to surprise people with how cool we could be,” she said. 

Almost 45 youth spent the week at the 59th annual Synod School, sponsored by the Synod of Lakes and Prairies and held at Buena Vista University, searching for God in popular books and films, including “The Hunger Games,” “Van Helsing,” “Cloverfield” and even the slightly campy 1984 horror/comedy “Night of the Comet.”

They’ve learned to pray in color, a way to get closer to God by combining drawing and prayer; designed video games with Biblical themes in mind; and even staged a pre-Olympic Games event to demonstrate their athletic prowess.

“Sometimes it may have looked like they weren’t enjoying the activities,” said the Rev. Sarah Butler, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Windom,Minn., and one of five leaders of the junior high-aged group. “But they got into them and sometimes they didn’t want to stop when it was over.”

“The Hunger Games,” a series of three books and a film seen and loved by millions of middle school-aged youth, has as its hero a teenager named Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to substitute for her sister in a fight-to-the-death televised match in a post-apocalyptic world.

“Does that sound like anybody you know?” asked the Rev. Norma Spurgin of First Presbyterian Church in Amboy,Minn.

Spurgin said the final scene from “Night of the Comet” was worth having to endure the 95-minute film. A comet has done away with most of Earth’s inhabitants, save for just a few. At the end of the film, the hero, Reggie, an 18-year-old, forces her younger sister Sam to cross a deserted-looking street at the signal. It’s a good thing, because a car barely avoids striking Sam.

“Those remaining thought they were carrying the burden of civilization,” Spurgin said. “I think youth feel that way sometimes.”

The discussion following “Cloverfield,” a 2008 film about a monster attack set in New York, was “the most excited and advanced discussion I’ve ever experienced” among youth, said Matt Weertz, education coordinator at First Presbyterian Church in Mankato, Minn. The Rev. Andrew Davis, pastor at Union Presbyterian Church inSt. Peter,Minn., helped the youth express their thoughts on the film.

To top off their week, youth had to wend their way around an obstacle course ― with a twist. The only way to make it through was to ask for ― and receive ― cooperation from the group.

“I think we taught them the most,”Butlersaid, “by the way we interacted with them.”

Mike Ferguson is a ruling elder at the United Presbyterian Church of Lone Tree (Iowa), a reporter for “The Muscatine Journal”― the newspaper where Mark Twain got his start ― editor of “Out and About, the enewsletter of the Presbytery of East Iowa, and a frequent contributor (especially this week) to Presbyterian News Service.