Thursday, February 27, 2014

Magic Moments: One Last Hurrah!

Ski Trip, 2007- at Cracker Barrel
Today is the last entry in my Magic Moments series. When I began these posts I promised there would be 10 posts. This makes 21. I said there would be great memories as well as some ups and downs. This final Throwback Thursday story has both. It is the story of my last days as a youth pastor.

When I began work on the full-time summer staff of Quaker Lake Camp in June of 1978, I was 18 years old. I was still 18 when I led my first youth group at Centre Friends Meeting. I had no idea that nearly 30 years later I would still be doing youth ministry. But in February of 2007 I was still at it, and on February 19 of that year my group from Trinity UMC of Waycross, GA returned home from a ski trip. In many ways it was just like the hundreds of other youth group trips I had been part of over the many years. In at least one way it was like no other. I didn't know it until a few days later, but it had been my last hurrah in student ministry.

The story of the trip really begins a year earlier when I arrived at TUMC. I wanted to change the culture of the youth ministry to reach out to more students in the community and to make our church "the place to be" in Waycross for middle school and high school students. Part of that plan included more trips and more big adventures. In the summer of 2006 we took a successful mission trip to Chicago with the Center for Student Missions. In September we attended Night of Joy at Walt Disney World. By then, we had already announced the ski trip, and excitement was building. We would go to West Virginia and ski Winterplace the week after Christmas. The Guy with the Bus was going home!

As often happens with youth trips, life got in the way. The church van broke down coming home from a Christmas outing to a Japanese restaurant in Brunswick (an hour away). Repairs would be major, and I was left scrambling to find a rental van for those days after Christmas. In the meantime, there was no snow in West Virginia and it was too warm to make any. Winterplace was not even certain they would be open. At the last second, I called and moved our reservations to President's Day Weekend, 2007. This caused much confusion and chaos, but since it was youth ministry, no one really noticed. 

Let it snow!
By the time we actually took the trip, our van was fixed. But the parents who had planned to go along as chaperons had to back out, and no one stepped up to replace them. So my brave wife Marilyn and I took them ourselves- as we had done so often back in the day. I drove the van and she drove our station wagon. We went up on Friday, and any worries about snow were put to rest as soon as we arrived in Virginia. It was snowing like crazy. By the time we arrived at the motel, conditions were tricky. For the students who had never really seen it snow big time, it was amazing. They were all psyched about skiing. It was going to be a great couple of days on the slopes.

A VERY young Will Jones ready for the slopes!
In the middle of that night Marilyn (who never gets sick) became as sick as a dog. By morning it was clear she was going nowhere. So we left her at the motel, loaded up the van, and headed up the mountain to Winterplace. And it was indeed a great couple of days of skiing with a diverse and wonderful group of kids. By the time we were ready to head home on Monday morning, Marilyn was fine. One of the girls, however, was not. Kendall would spend the entire trip back asleep in the back seat of the station wagon, leaving the van a bit more crowded. It snowed more on the way home. But eventually, we arrived safely in Waycross, and I was able to write a safe and successful ending to yet another youth trip.

Meagan & Marilyn in the ski lodge
I was excited for the future of the student ministry of TUMC.  Nearly half of the students on that trip had never been to church at Trinity when I arrived a year before. We were growing. The community was buzzing about us. I was already working on an amazing summer schedule for 2007. Two nights later I led our Wednesday night bible study. That would be my last official act as a youth pastor. After nearly 30 years in ministry, after hundreds of trips, countless programs, thousands of games, 3 guitars and more wonderful relationships than I can possibly count, I was suddenly- and I knew quite permanently- finished as a youth pastor. Seven years later I am still recovering. I have experienced the grace and forgiveness of Jesus in new ways. I have been loved and supported by family and friends (and a whole new community of grace-filled folks from Twitter!) in ways I never expected. I have even found new ways to continue to be in ministry with many of the people I served for all those years. But as I look back today, I see that final trip, and thank God for it- and all of the incredible adventures He allowed me over those many years. My life has been so blessed. So many Magic Moments, so many stories that have been shared here on this blog. But still...I really miss those amazing trips! Anybody else feeling the need to hit the road? Crank up the Bohemian Rhapsody and let's go!  :)

Because of Jesus,


  1. Great post! There is not limit to ministry opportunities. I know your posts have ministered to me.

  2. Thanks so much Paul. I know that God can still use me in ministry. The catch is trusting Him to decide how!


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