Pandemic Reveals Ministry Imagination
By Melissa Nesdahl, Director of Faith Formation,
and John Schomberg, Director of Youth Ministry
When COVID-19 first changed daily life, OSL Children’s and Youth Ministries immediately began to reimagine ministry in a new landscape. We—Melissa Nesdahl, Director of Faith Formation, and John Schomberg, Director of Youth Ministry—leaned into the Holy Spirit, recognizing that the traditional way of doing things is not the only way for meaningful ministry connection to occur.
Four OSL Children’s milestones on the calendar were transformed in a meaningful way to ensure that students could celebrate as a family at home as well as be lifted up publicly in worship. The Pre-Kindergarten Walk with Jesus video was shown, thanks to OSL’s TV Ministry. Fifth-graders received a Hello Faith box, inspired by Hello Fresh, that included all the items for their memento ball and caring conversation questions to walk through highlights of their faith journey, leading them to their upcoming OSL Youth experiences. A compilation video of the Lord’s Prayer lifted up first-graders as leaders. And you, generous OSL members, graciously submitted your favorite scripture verses via email to insert in Connect Bibles so third-grade students could feel remembered and wrapped in community even when physically distanced.
Understanding that parents were overwhelmed with a new distance-learning format for school, the team got to work creating ministry opportunities that students could enjoy independently or with their parent alongside. Matthew Tylutki, OSL Principal Organist, together with Rosie Linsner, the rotation Sunday School Music and Movement leader, brought to life Freddy the Flamingo, whom we’ve all come to adore. Freddy, who can be found on OSL’s Facebook page every other Tuesday, teaches songs and actions utilized in worship so students can actively participate from home. Coupling with Matthew and Rosie’s focus, Melissa introduced Thursday Faith Formation in the Home videos, which dig into a short scripture, spark wonder, and suggest an activity that connects students’ faith to everyday life. Individuals have chalked their walk with faith messages, made bird feeders, painted their windows to look like stained glass, grown grass out of their head like hair as one of God’s people bringing the Kingdom of Heaven near, and more. Between Freddy’s music and the story-plus-activity, every element of Sunday School was easily delivered into homes in a new fun and friendly way. Much to our joy, individuals of all ages connected to these opportunities.
Aware that we could use items from within our homes to lift up the Bible story, Melissa invited rotation students to Ministry Moments with Melissa. Using the story they were learning—Jesus Calming the Storm—students showed up on each other’s screens, sharing their comfort items when life feels scary to them and discussing how Jesus loves each of us through all the storms of life, bringing calm to our hearts.
Zoom-ing in with the older kids became a meaningful connection. A fourth-grade small group continued to meet beyond the education year, lending itself to added biblical awareness. And, during an online mini-retreat, John invited fifth-grade students into middle-school youth group. Meeting online weekly with both middle-school and high-school students, John continued to innovate, finding games that could be played together from within their homes to maintain excitement while seamlessly weaving ways to discuss their experiences and stresses, and how they are feeling through this pandemic. From the computer screen, a safe space for students to both share and find understanding emerged, congruent to that which they’d always felt in the Youth Room. Students logged on each week, eager to see their church family.
Games were offered with parents and wider church, too. Using the Kahoot! app, everyone was welcome to log in to Family Game Night. With time-focused questions about everything from Paw Patrol to Bible stories to silly state laws to knowing that Pr. Tim was once a mink farmer; households used their speed to outwit others in friendly competition. These 45-minute activities in June and July offered welcome, laughter, celebration, and shared prayer.
Confirmation relationships were nurtured online as well. Leaders were offered the opportunity to meet with their students via computer. Realizing that checking in for mental health was of utmost importance, leaders created space for students to share highs and lows. These small groups, which drive faith enrichment, became space for life to be explored and trust to flourish.
With service work close to John’s heart, he offered contactless Meals on Wheels to Our Savior’s families. For several years, OSL youth have assisted with this valuable service for one week each summer. But this year, John committed to helping fill three weeks and invited all OSL families to participate. And it all filled! To ensure safety, deliverers traveled in their own car, placed meal items in a bag, hung them on door handles, knocked, and left. This created opportunity to do God’s work with our hands in safe way during the pandemic, while filling body and soul for others. Eager individuals demonstrated that we are a church defined not by our building but by our living faith. God works in and through us, and the heart of volunteers actively reflected God’s loving heart to a hurting world.
In this time when there is so much we can’t do, OSL Children’s and Youth Ministries continue to reimagine and innovate. We continue to faithfully steward meaningful ministry for students, families, and the broader church. They are using biblical encouragement, providing purpose, loving the neighbor, and nurturing confident faith inside homes that will have ripple effects for years to come.
As we move towards autumn, the OSL Youth and Children’s team continues to be moved by the Spirit, inventing and dreaming and being excited about all that is to come. God is on the move, and we are delighted to be part of the unfolding story.