Tess Frohock began as a CYMT resident in the inaugural class in 2006. Tess’ assigned church was St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and Preston Taylor Ministries–both in Nashville–and she is still serving there today. She was commissioned in 2008 with a certificate in youth ministry and returned in 2011 to complete her Masters work through CYMT with a Master of Arts in Youth Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary.
The Calvin House Youth Program is a partnership between Preston Taylor Ministries and St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. The program was created in the Fall of 2006 for teenagers living in Preston Taylor Homes and the surrounding West Nashville area. The purpose of the program is to give teens a safe place to hang out, make friends, and ultimately, grow in love for God and one another. Tess has served as the Calvin House Youth Director for the past five years and her first group of students to complete the program have just graduated. She sat down with us to reflect on her experience at Calvin House and her work there.
Five years ago, Calvin House Youth was preparing for our second academic year of youth ministry. The first year was a rough ride, to say the least. Our church, whose membership is mostly over the age of 65, had given us the space to operate and prayerful support to encourage us and invest in us. Our first students were severely hurting from the brokenness in their homes and community. The second year was no longer training ground; with more volunteers, a better statement of mission and discipline policy, and growing grace for students’ frailties, we began to build a new culture for this space called Calvin House Youth, marked by the immeasurable grace and love of God in Jesus Christ and a commitment to living that out in our fellowship every day.
Five years later we enjoy a peace that surpasses all understanding, an oasis of God’s grace residing in an area marked by poverty, violence, brokenness, and hopelessness. Calvin House Youth has become a space where youth and adults wholly contribute to God’s work of sanctifying us together in community. Far from an interventionist’s mindset, our youth ministry has guarded the times and places designated as “Calvin House” for safe environments for youth to live into their God-given image and know they will be nurtured, supported, and given grace in Christ every step of the way. Not every youth can sustain this type of joy and vulnerability; consequently, they don’t last long. Today, we have a clear and tangible image of who we are in Christ and what our living as disciples means in our churches, schools, and community, and that identifying image is bringing good news to students in lived, creative and joy-filled ways.
Seven high schoolers!
When I first came to Preston Taylor Ministries and St. Andrew’s Church, the emphasis was on elementary students. Middle and high schoolers were an afterthought, and many of them were falling through the cracks. The same loving kids who were in the elementary after-school tutoring program one year were seen walking the streets the very next. Seeing students walk through every year of their adolescent development consistently supported and nurtured in God’s grace for them makes all the difference. They walk confidently knowing that they were created in God’s image for good, and they naturally exhibit the fruit of the Spirit because of their constant exposure to what Christ does in the lives of his disciples. Graduation is a climactic moment for us!
Sean was a seventh grader who joined our youth group during our ministry’s first year. Sean lived with his mom and older and younger sisters in a busy and somewhat unsafe area of the community. He was humble and wide-eyed; he quietly kept returning to the Calvin House year after year and steadily became immersed in the Gospel and his role as a leader in the youth group. Along the way, Sean discovered a rare intellectual ability, leading him to excel in school and acquire opportunities for college enrollment at a number of four-year degree schools. His high school years would involve living in four different houses and attending three different high schools. Despite these difficulties Sean maintained his commitment to the Calvin House and his schoolwork. The week before he left for college, he sent us a text message to say one more time what Calvin House has meant to him:
This is Sean. I leave next week but this message is simply to thank you for helping me in everything. I’m thankful I have you in my life. Truly blessed.
A Scripture verse that comes to mind summarizes what God is doing in Sean’ life. The New International Version of the Bible says of 1 Corinthians 4:20 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” Sean has become empowered by the Gospel and is a shining example of what God can do in the meekest among us!
Another student from our program, Tia, found our youth group while playing outside with her friends down the street from our church. She was a hyperactive, towering eighth grader whose strength and stature were a force to be reckoned with by those who met her. She wasn’t overly violent but had keen protective instincts. Her infectious smile and boisterous temperament always left a mark on the atmosphere; you knew when Tia was present. During her middle and high school years we witnessed Tamara and her family join St. Andrew’s Church, her parents end a difficult marriage relationship, and her older brother fail out of college. Despite the difficulties, Tia’s energy never waned; in fact, Calvin House strengthened her identity as a child of God loved and valued and resolved to make Calvin House memorable and special to those who wished to know it as their family. Calvin House became, and still is today, Tia’s family of faith. Although her academic ability might prevent her from attending college, she is discovering an equally satisfying and essential task in the kingdom of God: hospitality. While other students receive the accolades for their achievements, Tia achieves the presence of God’s love and grace transforming isolated youth into vibrant members of Calvin House and St. Andrew’s Church. Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 6 resonates with how Tia displays the God known in the grace of Jesus Christ: her Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward her.
If you would like to learn more about Calvin House, please visit their website at www.calvinhouseyouth.weebly.com.
CYMT is proud to announce the expansion of our original initiative into Theology Together 2.0. CYMT aims to develop a curriculum to be used in local congregations and ministries. Taking what we have learned about engaging youth in deep theological reflection during missional experiences and embedding those processes into congregational youth ministries.
"I hope students come away from my courses with the ability to think more deeply, richly and theologically about their youth ministry practice. I think a lot of what happens in youth ministry happens unreflectively and can be deforming to young people, and my courses are intended to give students a theological framework for evaluating and reforming their youth ministry practice."
Of course, I want students to drink deeply from the academic readings, lectures and discussions, and I want them to be informed by the academics. But more than that, I want them to see that youth ministry is a calling of God, an important part of God’s mission in the world, one that should give them pride and evoke humility at the same time.