Youth Sunday Sermon: Lena Duke
Good Morning! My name is Lena Duke and I have been an involved member of the St. John’s Youth Program since 7th grade. Before I begin, you all should know I am a Catholic girl preaching from a Baptist pulpit. I have been going to St. Peter’s Catholic Church downtown since I was born. I have been baptised, gone through first communion, confirmation and have even participated in confession with a Priest. Although I am a Catholic, I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to be involved in this youth program. It has helped to guide me through many difficult times in my life, given me many friends and allowed me to be an avid member of my community. I have never been involved in such an embracing community and it started due to my neighbor, Elizabeth Rodden, introducing me to this Church. Between the workload and stress of an IB Student at Myers Park, working part-time jobs and playing sports, Sunday evenings are by far my favorite as I get to enjoy time with everyone sitting before me. The youth program’s most attractive thing is their devotion to service. I have grown up in a household where every third Saturday of the month my family would go to the Men’s Homeless Shelter on Tryon and prepare dinner for the men. We would typically prepare fruit, vegetables, meatball sandwiches, and dessert, which most often I was in charge of. We provided dinner for almost 300 men who were homeless. This activity within the community helped me to be more interactive with the men as we served them a healthy and hearty dinner. I have been raised prioritizing the service of others leading me to be a more caring and selfless person. The amount of engagement and service with others the st. johns youth group engages in, is incomparable. The most enjoyable aspect of the youth program I have experienced during my involvement was going to QC Family Tree two years ago and playing a game of touch football with them. While I did not get passed the ball many times I still had fun. I loved especially watching the kids and interacting with them. This relationship that I gained with them differed from many of the relationships St. Peters has given me. They do not have a youth group thus it is hard to make personal relationships with others through the teachings of God. One thing I love about the Youth Group at St. Johns is that we are able to create a personal relationship with those we help. This relationship is created through direct communication and time. The Charlotte Rescue Mission helps to create a strong relationship as we play bingo with the men to help them win prizes. During these games of bingo, we have varying conversations. Some discuss favorite professional football teams, Alabama vs Clemson while others discuss their favorite foods. Another appealing aspect of Bingo with the men at Charlotte Rescue Mission was that I always seemed to win, allowing my partners to win prizes. Habitat for Humanity was, however, the most influential activity on me. Habitat for Humanity involved getting defined tan lines from 8-hour work days, hammering more nails than I’ve ever seen and Mike giving many of us permission to use a machine that used real gun powder. In 9th grade, I was able to build one for Benn Franklin Johnson and his three children. In 11th grade, I helped to give Heather Varney and her family a home. In both of these circumstances we did not do everything, but through our work, we began the building of a home. Receiving updates from Bert Green after was the best part. We learned that Heather and her daughter Addie were able to experience their first Thanksgiving in their own home. All of the youth were able to create relationships with Heather Varney and her mom who volunteered many days. Habitat for Humanity also gave me the opportunity to create relationships with the other volunteers, especially adults. While on the trip, I helped to build the walls, mark the ground with placement lines, build the roof even when I was two years too young, side the house and even build a picnic table, which is what I was supposed to be doing. I helped to side the house will Bill Claytor. Bill Claytor acted as a mentor helping me as I had never built a thing in my life. Being a smaller and younger youth than the majority there, Bill Claytor immediately helped me to learn how to hammer a nail and especially how to side a house, which is his specialty. This trip was my first trip outside of the Charlotte service trip in middle school with the youth group. At the time the youth group was composed of many seniors, all who were
on there last service trip. These seniors were surrounded by the people they had grown up with creating memories. As we did senior tributes many of the seniors cried with another telling how much of an impact they had made. This helped to show me the relationship created between each other and how in the future I wanted this type of relationship with those in the youth group now. I do believe that during these past 6 years I have created the same strong friendships and bonds with others. I am looking forward to the upcoming senior tributes in Puerto Rico. In addition to experiencing and building relationships with others, the youth group has been a safe haven for me throughout my high school experience. The summer after freshman year my parents divorced and my two brothers were preparing to go to college. I struggled with this a lot and would not open up or tell anyone about it because growing up I have learned to bottle things
up. The following Sunday I left on a Habitat for Humanity trip with the youth group. This helped me to distract my mind from situations in Charlotte as many were unaware of my situation and instead focus on building a house Benn Franklin Johnson and his family could create memories in. Later during my time in high school, I had to cope with both of my brothers going off to college at the same time, leaving me to be an only child with only one parent, one thing I had never experienced before. I learned from this how much I missed arguing with my brothers because they were no longer there anymore. More recently on October 15th, I had to handle the loss of a childhood dog. A dog who I did everything with growing up. Throughout all three of these experiences, I’ve had the support from my youth group as well as those involved in the church. I am now entering a stressful time as college decisions come out and in 7 months I will no longer be able to spend my Sunday nights with the youth group. Everything is becoming surreal as last weekend I had my last youth ski trip and in June going to Puerto Rico will be my last trip as a member of the St. Johns Youth Group. The youth group has not only been a comforting place to me it has opened many doors for me within the church community and outside of. It has also deepened and strengthened my relationship with God and I hope to seek out a church family wherever I end up in college. I now understand the value of a church family. Thank you, Lee Gray, for welcoming me, a Catholic girl, into the St. Johns family.