SPRING HILL — For Jody Bowes, a youth ministry involves more than activities for kids. She wants them to get excited about what they do — and about God.
"A lot of times, kids are only thinking whatever it is their friends are thinking," the youth minister for St. Andrew's Episcopal Church explained. "We want to get them interested in not only an activity, but the reason behind the activity. We want them to buy into something because it's important to them as a person and a way to grow creatively."
Bowes would like children to understand what it means to be a spiritual being as well as a human being.
"It's important for them to become closer in their relationship to God and to understand that things are bigger than just them or just a youth ministry," she said.
With that in mind, Bowes leads St. Andrew's youth, ages 8 to 18, in being active participants in numerous church events — some for themselves, and others as an outreach.
The group of about 30 kids gets together on Wednesday evenings. Creative activities include singing, playing instruments, skits and participation in an annual talent show. Spiritual activities include a monthly contemporary worship service, visiting other church youth groups, Bible trivia games and discussions.
Outreach events have included a liturgical drum circle and a recent "Kids' Favorite Cuisine" dinner. Some of the events are fundraisers that help the youth pay for events they want to attend, such as the upcoming "Night of Joy" at Disney World.
At the close of each of the weekly get-togethers, there is a 20- to 30-minute "candlelit prayer circle."
"We shut most of the lights off and go sit in a big circle and light a candle," Bowes said. "We start with a prayer, usually of thanksgiving, and it sort of centers us and calms us down if we've been doing something rowdy."
Each person in the circle spends time holding the candle.
"Everybody has the opportunity to speak and say whatever's on their mind, whether it's something they're thankful for or talk about something they've done that they're sorry for or if they want to ask for prayer for someone," Bowes said. "Anything that they would like to get out in a prayerful setting. The last person blows it out, and we're done for the night."
On the fourth Wednesday, there is a dinner and movie. That event begins at 6 p.m. and is open to the community.
"We provide hot food," Bowes said. "We usually ask people to sign up and let us know they're coming, and then everyone brings a salad or something. There's no cost."
On one of the Wednesday nights each month, the youth have a contemporary church service, which beings at 6:30 p.m.
"We do the contemporary music that the youth today is familiar with within the Christian community," Bowes said. "The kids do the readings. They do skits they make up themselves. They decide what they want to talk about. Together with me, we'll choose a theme. We choose Bible stories related to whatever theme we have. I always ask them for their opinions and their input."
In March, the youth had a Celtic Eucharist. This month, they had a Taize service, a popular service of song and prayer begun many years ago in France.
Bowes said she is hoping to attract some of the older members of the congregation to the contemporary services.
"We have a good mix in our congregation of older and younger parishioners. I really work to make the young people understand how important it is to work with and learn from and be in concert with the older generation, and I'm always reminding the older generation to take an interest in the younger generation, to thank the younger generation for what they're doing."
At age 51, Bowes, who is also the minister of music for the church, said she looks at her church kids as her own.
"I've never been married, so the only kids I have are my kids here at the church," she said, then jokes: "I tell them the reason I'm so young is because I've never had to live with any of them."
Not having family responsibilities allows her to be a minister and counselor to the youth, and often they confide in her.
"They're pretty honest with me because we've been together almost two years as a group," Bowes said. "I feel that we are able to keep our confidences because I'm still a big kid in many ways. I haven't forgotten what it's like to be a teenager."
Bowes said she has some specific goals in mind for the group.
"Ultimately," she said, "I'd really like to see them grow in number to the point where we can do more community-based activities. I'd love to start a theater or start some sort of a music group or praise band that could go out and perform and minister to the community.
"My goal is just to bring these young people into a closer spiritual relationship both with learning to love themselves the way that God loves them and to come to truly understand what that means in a setting of fellowship with others in their church and their community."