my friend whitney put me on to a church in the north of chicago called ravenswood covenant church. it's a bit of a hike from the hostel and for some time they've been doing upgrading work on the various train lines that form a large part of chicago's public transit system. going to and fro on the blue line (thus far, at least), i'd been hearing about changes and buses ferrying people between the points on the brown line that weren't being served on the "l" for the time being. (the wells st bridge was being upgraded.) so getting to ravenswood was a bit of an adventure.
i caught the red line from around the corner from the hostel to chicago ave, where i alighted and walked the several blocks to the brown line. it was a bit drizzly but only very lightly, and i kept myself bundled up fairly tightly in my coat. the train stop on the brown line is elevated and quite open; there are places where you can stand that have heat lamps - between november and march, you can press a button that gets them warming up; all in all, there were maybe a dozen or a score of us waiting for the train, and i was waiting for a good ten or fifteen minutes. i think i might have just missed one.
so i found myself to be running late. i thought i'd allowed myself enough time but clearly not. the church has a "sunday school" - for everyone, with various classes for different folk - that runs from 9.30am, with a church service following at 10.45am. i stopped off at a cafe i passed on the way and enjoyed a very delicious hazelnut latte(?) and used the internet for a while until it was much closer to time to go to church. i finished up and headed off.
ravenswood is a nice church, the sermon was good (and when it's about the prodigal son it's always interesting to see what tack a preacher will take, given its familiarity), and they were taking the opportunity this week to send off one of their own to begin pastoring a congregation on the other side of the country. after church was good too, with nice coffee and munchies downstairs, and i was able to have quite the long and involved discussion with one of the team involved in youth ministry.
it's always tricky talking youth stuff. some youth ministry types tend to latch on to the question while others try to avoid it - "how many kids in your youth group?" - and after (effectively) twenty-two years in youth ministry it's something i try not to ask right away... but i have come to accept it's the elephant in the room. there aren't too many ways for you to obviously measure growth in a youth group, especially since the goal most youth groups seem to aspire to - spiritual maturity in their youth that works itself out in personal evangelism and holy living - is hard enough to see growth in in the lives of everyday parishioners! an economist would ask the question, "well, what's the incentive?", and the truth of the matter is, i think, that our incentive (to honour God and to grow the church in holiness and maturity) is one where the reward is so far off that our incentive structure can easily get out of whack.
we want to see the church grow. good! so let's get some warm bodies in there. ahhh, there's the rub. how do you ask your friends along if (a) you don't have any Christian friends at school who aren't already at a different youth group, (b) your friends at school don't know you're a Christian, (c) you're home-schooled and everyone in your family already comes to church, or (d) you're scared that asking them along will mean you have no more friends. for a school student (for anyone, but especially when you're at school) that's a big ask. working through 1 peter only goes so far and sooner or later you either settle on spiritual growth and a "beads on a string" approach to slow-growth youth ministry, or you go for the "scooper" approach and run a programme high on games and light on spoken scripture. they both have their benefits and costs. i heard one friend put it that you can go for an inch-deep and a mile wide or aim for depth and go as wide as you go.
the young man i spoke to was very earnest, clearly loves the Lord, and is keen to see youth grow in his church, in maturity and numbers. i felt (as much as i ever have in this way) that God is working in him and i have little doubt that the church will be blessed. chicago has a lot of people coming and going and a church that loves its parishioners sees those people come back; i pray that ravenswood continues to grow as such a place.
i had planned, afterwards, to go to a place called the read/write library to a letter-writing even they were hosting. the inclement weather drove me into a coffee shop called eva's cafe near sedgwick, where i was planning to alight to get the bus to north california ave and the read/write library. eva's was great and i enjoyed one of the nicest mocha's i've had. they even called it a "moh-kuh" and not a "mow-kuh". refreshing. i spent a good hour or two dwelling on coffees, checking email, getting a handle on my travel plans, reading zines from the day before. delightful.
the rain didn't really stop and eventually i decided to cut my losses and head back into the city. there was trackwork going on on the wells st bridge, so it was a bit of a magical mystery tour heading back to the hostel. whereas in the morning i'd taken the train along a parallel and walked from one train line to the next to avoid the bridge, on the way back i got off the train and took the shuttle bus as advised by the chicago transit authority. the bus connected us to the station at washington and wells, where i caught an orange line train to the jackson stop, conveniently-enough located not far from the hostel.
in the classic tradition, i gave travel information advice to a group of teenagers trying to navigate the weekend's trackwork (me, who'd been in chicago for all of a few days). the evening passed quietly.