There is a new face around town.
Wendy Gourley was recently hired as the new Youth Pastor at The Gathering Place (TGP) in Ridgetown.
Gourley and her husband made the move to Ridgetown after living in Timmins, Ont., for seven years. She is well educated and always wanting to learn. In 1990, Gourley received a Bachelor of Religious Education.
“I was children’s pastor for three years, and then I left to start my own family,” said Gourley. “And then I was a children’s pastor for another three years, and then left. Now I’m a children’s pastor again,” said Gourley.
Although it hasn’t been a continuous stream, Gourley says she has around nine years of experience. More than 30 years after her Bachelor’s degree, she has added a Child & Youth Care Diploma from St. Clair College to her resume.
A youth pastor’s role from a Biblical definition is to disciple; that is, to encourage kids to develop the quality of character demonstrated by Jesus. Gourley does this by creating a group identity, creating group leadership, and mentoring.
In Ridgetown, Gourley works with youth from grades six to 12, where she teaches bible principles and spiritual growth.
Gourley said whether she will have to continue with her online methods due to COVID-19 or whether she can one day interact face-to-face, her message remains consistent for the year.
“The one message that I really want them to know is how much God loves them,” said Gourley. That’s kind of my theme for the whole year.”
Wendy said she uses Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays for youth group.
“So Thursday and Friday, I’m looking up and trying to find some games that we can play online, using different platforms. Among Us, has been a pretty big hit, and a couple of other games that kids love,” said Gourley.
Although the kids enjoy playing games, Gourley said there are also lessons to be learned. She added she would often teach simple Bible lessons verbally, as she can talk the children through the lesson.
Friday nights are reserved for high school students. According to Gourley, the children meet using a platform called Discord, which she says is similar to Zoom.
“Some kids put their video on, and we’re all on audio for sure. We’ll just check in with each other, generally asking each of them how their week has been, on a scale of one to 10? Where are you sitting? Is life, okay?” said Gourley.
She added there is also a Bible lesson with the high school students.
While Sundays are reserved for junior high aged kids, the process is fairly similar, according to Gourley. She is hopeful to have a painting day in the future, where she will drop off painting supplies on their porch for the kids to follow along.
“I have an amazing bunch of kids in my youth group,” said Gourley. “I’m super pleased with them, and I’m very happy with how responsible they are.”
According to Doug Rowley, The Gathering Place’s Reverend, TGP emphasizes support and care for children and youth.
“We hire a Youth Pastor to complement other youth leaders in the community; to provide alternative environments and activities with a focus on their whole self, including spirituality,” said Rowley. “Though Wendy has just started at TGP, she comes with lots of experience and commendation from her previous position in Northern Canada.”
Wendy said there are still open spots for youth groups and suggests there’s never been a better time to join.
“Now would be a great time to do it because you’re not actually physically there,” said Gourley. “You’re just kind of virtually there. If you’re on the shy side and didn’t really want to go by yourself, now would be a good time to do it because they could ‘kind of’ do it.”
Rowley echoed Gourley’s invitation for more youth to join. He added 12 years ago, TGP was like many churches, where children and youth were noticeably absent. That is no longer the case.
“TGP addressed this and made them (children) the priority,” said Rowley. “Slowly, TGP has grown numerically in all ages, and it is our intention to continue to build and develop efforts to positively influence children and youth even more so in the months and years to come.”
Gourley added the youth group is an open invitation to all. She recommends checking out their website at www.tgpchurch.ca. Those interested in learning more are encouraged to email her at email@example.com or text at 226-626-5867.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News