“Youth are the church, and we are living that out in this church,” says Rev. Kathy Chesney, who serves congregations located at Philip and Interior in South Dakota.
Philip, South Dakota, located in the western part of the state, is home to 152 children and youth— birth to 18-years-of-age. This summer, 99 youth, including the high school volunteers, participated in Vacation Bible School at a barn a mile west of Philip United Church.
“Everybody comes,” says Rev. Chesney. “We have most of the kids in the community who attend and some grandchildren from other towns. The middle and high school youth are helpers.”
Rev. Kathy Chesney has a bus driver’s license, and this summer, drove a bus full of 4-year-of-age through sixth-grade students to what has become affectionately known as “A Place of Encouragement.”
“A Place of Encouragement” is a remodeled barn with a chapel, music area, and a place for crafts. The site is a legacy of Rev. Al Brucklacher, a retired United Methodist Pastor. Pastor Al had a passion for inspiring people to grow in their faith and utilized his ranch to light the flame of the Holy Spirit for many.
Gavin Brucklacher and Skye Holsetter, two of Pastor Al’s grandchildren, continue the legacy. They have completely remodeled the barn that houses Vacation Bible School each summer. A space that is not only cared for but has been prayed over by many.
“I know that Pastor Al prayed over every inch of the ranch,” says Pastor Kathy. “It is truly a legacy and a place of encouragement for everyone.”
The powerful VBS experience is the place where many young people dedicate their lives to Christ.
“This summer, nine young people committed themselves to Christ. The three-day experience is filled with worship, music, lessons, crafts, and games. If someone wants one-on-one time to explore their faith or make a commitment, I am there for them,” says Pastor Kathy. “It is powerful to see God moving.”
Children and youth continue their faith journeys throughout the year through early release time on Wednesday, confirmation classes, and high school youth group.
Every Wednesday from 2:30-3:30 p.m. Students from the local elementary school are released to attend a religious education opportunity—one-third or 44 children ages 4 through sixth-grade head over to Philip United Church. A group of passionate, experienced volunteers leads students through lessons, music, and activities.
“We have awesome volunteers that make things happen. They make the curriculum happen based on their experience and the resources that we have,” says Pastor Kathy. “There is just a lot of activity and a lot of passion for Jesus.”
Each month the various classes—Preschool through Kindergarten, first and second grade, third grade, fourth grade, and fifth and sixth grade, have a mission project. Projects include bingo at the nursing home, picking up trash throughout the community, or collecting food for the food pantry.
Chesney says, “We want them to learn at a young age what it means to help others.”
Confirmation and youth group also happen on Wednesday nights. Each week at 6 p.m., there is a supper followed by confirmation and youth group activities. Once a month, the youth put together a contemporary worship service. In addition, the youth group holds mission projects and events at other times throughout the month.
A great group of leaders that are dedicated to making youth feel part of the church describes Pastor Kathy. She sees the commitment to the children and youth as a vital part of rural ministry.
“Our youth are the church. This congregation believes it and lives that out. Rural ministry cannot be vital and survive without the young people. I am proud of our congregation for creating a culture of invitation to the community, “ says Pastor Kathy.