‘Church with a big C’: Synergy ecumenical youth gatherings mix fun, fellowship, worship

When area youth recently gathered for an outdoor worship session recently, even the cicadas joined in on the singing. And while the Bible instructs worshipers to enter God’s courts with praise, students entered his courtyard instead — or at least the one at First Christian Church on Fifth Street in downtown Columbus.

So it was at part of the latest free gathering for Synergy, the quarterly meeting of fun, fellowship, food and teaching for area seventh- through 12th-graders. This was meant to kick off the new school year — and to remind young people of the importance of all Christians’ unity, no matter their congregational affiliation.

“This is about church with a big C,” said Tyler Tolbert, First Christian’s discipleship and young adults minister, referring to the broad, encompassing body of believers from different houses of worship and denominations.

The Columbus Area Youth Ministry Alliance, an ecumenical organization supporting young believers and their leaders, launched Synergy more than five years ago to strengthen togetherness among the faithful in a casual, relaxed atmosphere created at rotating host churches. At the time it began, some of the older teen participants mentioned the concept was badly needed in a world where they had witnessed too many church squabbles, disagreements and even church splits.

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This most recent event attracted nearly 40 youths and got underway with a friendly volley-oriented game of Ninesquare, which invited teamwork and laughter among students and leaders alike while building an easy rapport.

“This is one way to show them that they are not alone in their faith, that they can connect with students from other churches and just have some fun, praise God together and grow together,” said Bryan Graves, family life minister at Garden City Church of Christ, which brought a vanload of 13 students to the event.

Next came free pizza, which served as a time of informal mingling. A number of participants mentioned that they viewed getting to know others at other churches as significant, since Scripture refers to followers of Christ as a unified group.

Kara Broad, a Columbus East High School senior who attends First Christian, has attended events almost as long as they have been offered.

“We can all be one,” Broad said. “And I think it’s pretty cool to worship sometimes as a pretty big crowd instead of just a smaller youth group.”

In past years, some gatherings attracted as many as 175 or more teens. Lydia Jordan, a seventh-grader at Hauser Junior-Senior High School and a member of Columbus First Assembly, echoed worship as one of the best parts of the get-togethers.

“It shows us ways God has been alive in the lives of others,” Jordan said.

“We serve an awesome God,” Tolbert told the group during the contemporary worship led by guitarist Jacob Kennedy and percussionist David Glowacki. “And he loves nothing better than to hear us sing to him.”

Songs ranged from The Newsboys’ “Your Love never Changes” to the classic standard “Blessed Assurance.”

Zach Mills, a Hauser junior also from Columbus First Assembly church, has encouraged others to attend Synergy. And one friend took him up on the invitation.

“You definitely can’t live this (Christian) life without accountability and without strong friends,” Mills said, adding that the atmosphere is both accepting and affirming of newcomers.

Columbus North senior and First Christian member Anna Krueger understands that concept of much-needed support.

“Sometimes, you can feel kind of alone in your faith, especially in high school,” Krueger said. “Just knowing that there are so many other people out there sharing the same as you is really kind of comforting.”

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Synergy gatherings, a mix of fun, food, fellowship, worship and teaching, are open to all area seventh- through 12th-graders, according to organizers.

The date for the next get-together has not yet been determined. But Tyler Tolbert can provide that information as soon as it becomes available.

Information: 812-379-4491 or [email protected].