In her sixth year as Bible faculty at LCA, Jenna Olson is serving as the Campus Ministry Coordinator and has gotten our year off to an exciting start by launching the Faith-in-Action initiative. This year, 100% of LCA students will participate in a yearlong service project aimed at enriching and activating our spiritual formation programming and inspire us all to apply the gospel to the world around us. We asked Ms. Olson to discuss her vision for this program a bit more below:
So, what is the Faith-in-Action initiative?
Well, it’s simple. We’re adding service into all of our normal Chapel programming and making sure that all of our students have the opportunity to literally put their growing faith into action this year.
Why is adding service opportunities to Chapel so important?
Every year we participate in weekly Chapel as a form of community worship, and it’s forever been a really treasured part of the school week. This year, we’re still doing that, we’re just also doing what we can to take that worship outside these walls and serve others, like Jesus did.
Last year, the Spiritual Formation team focused on infusing energy into Chapel coming out of the pandemic by inviting lots of outside guest speakers to the stage. It was so great to bring in new voices who could share their stories and their experiences with God, and as we reflected on the year and heard from our students directly, we felt we really needed to continue to aim for even more engagement and opportunities to be hands-on with our faith.
So, we thought about what’s worked, what’s great, what’s missing, and we were really drawn to Scripture passages like 1 John 3:18, “Let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth”, James 1:22 “Do not merely listen to the word…do what it says”, and Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mind, you did for me”… and it was clear to us – we needed to create the space for our students to be active and not just passive in how they engage with their spiritual formation.
What impact do you think this initiative will have on students?
I shared a story at Convocation about playing basketball in college. We had a set plan from our coach on how to defend our opponents. I fully believed in the plan and agreed with my coach. But when it came to game time, my actions didn’t match my words or my beliefs. Often, our faith looks similar. We may believe in Jesus and earnestly seek God in our lives, but getting our actions to align is not always easy.
We sincerely believe that God has called us to serve, to obediently listen to God’s commands, and to engage with the world around us. So, we need to do that, and we think it’s really valuable for students to see how an obedient faith really applies in their lives outside of this little community. There’s so many ways out there to be Christ among others and to bring hope to places where there is little.
Honestly, we hope that students experience their faith in a new and relevant way. They’re going to be asked to get out of their comfort zones, take initiative, and own their work with others. They’ll be the ones meeting with agencies, making and executing plans… they’re leading. My hope is that they confront new places and people they may typically not interact with, and that they will be helpfully challenged by what they experience, in ways that sharpen their faith and trust in Jesus.
Alright, so… how are we going to accomplish this?
Last year, we surveyed our students to see what areas of service they were most interested in. The four that rose to top of the list were The Elderly, Huger/Homelessness/Poverty, The Environment, and Special Needs Communities. We came back this year and had students choose between these top four, which has resulted in four relatively equal “tracks” that include students across all grades 6-12.
Over the summer, I contacted dozens of local agencies and organizations and was able to secure partnerships with FOURTEEN different groups in our surrounding area.
WOAH, wait… fourteen!? Who?
- Lexington Community Farm
- Lexington Conservation
- Young Evangelicals for Climate Action
- Joni & Friends
- Bina Farm
- L’Arche Boston North
- Special Olympics
- Sunrise Assisted Living Center
- LCA Alumni
- Malden Warming Center
- Lexington Food Pantry
- Arlington Eats
- Living Waters (Lowell)
Okay, that’s amazing, keep going…
So we presented students with these agencies within their “tracks” a couple weeks ago. We introduced what they do and how they are making a difference, and we invited students to let us know their top choices for who to partner with. This resulted in 18 “pods” of mixed-grade levels that will commit their year to building relationships, assessing needs, and providing service in partnership with their agency.
Yup! The cool thing about Service Learning is that it empowers students to investigate, learn, and be curious, and come up with a plan of service that actually helps the places where they are working. They aren’t just showing up as warm bodies, they’re legitimately filling a need, which isn’t always the case when it comes to community service. This is not a checking-a-box sort of thing… it’s really meant to teach students how to be impactful even though they’re “just teenagers” – there are really ways that their position in life and in the world can bless those in need.
So, how much time will students actually spend in these service tracks?
That’ll vary based on the agency they are working with and the needs they are filling. In addition to our “normal” Chapel programming, we’ve set aside around ten Chapel blocks throughout the year for these service tracks and pods to meet, plan, learn, serve, and reflect. Our guest Chapel speakers will also be intentionally connected to this initiative, so the thread of what we’re doing will remain consistent all year long.
Thanks, Jenna! Anything else you want to make sure people know?
Honestly? That I have felt an incredible amount of excitement as I’ve worked with these partners over the last few months. I’ve had the chance to visit these places and speak with the people who are doing this full time and they are really incredible. While I’m really hopeful that students will be able to help them… I’m also really excited about how inspired I think they are going to be by this work, and how we will be changed and helped by the ones who are already helping. This is the start of something good, and I’m excited to share more about it with the whole community as we walk through it together!