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Forming a place for welcome, expression, and support

Posted: March 16 2023 at 02:14 PM
Author: Michelle Braxton, Laity, Friendship UMC


Drop In Room

Friendship UMC in Bolingbrook is partnering with Bolingbrook Pride to host a Youth Drop-In event once a month for young people ages 12-18 who need a place to feel welcome, be able to express themselves, and support each other as they explore their true identities. Many youth don't feel they need church, but seeing that a church can provide safety and support to them is significant.  Suicide rates in youth ages 12 to 18 are at an all-time high, especially in the LGBTQ+ population.  That rate drops to 50 percent for youth who have at least one supportive adult in their lives. Friendship's Drop-In Center is providing three supportive adults at sessions.
 
Wynter, one of the three counselors at the drop-in center and a member of Friendship Church since infancy, is a substitute teacher for grade school and middle school youth and has a personal and professional understanding with those who are feeling they are developing to be non-traditional.  Guests and hosts at the drop-in events are able to express themselves and support each other.  The sessions are not all serious: there is time for crafts, fun activities, snacks, and discussions to learn together.  Wynter feels that having something like this before college would have been very helpful in their development as a person.
 
In speaking with other Friendship members, they know that youth are going through so many different experiences and appreciate that the church proves somewhere for them to go where they can feel safe and nurtured.  They feel it’s an important opportunity to offer a warm, loving environment where the young people are accepted and can communicate freely.  They feel that it aligns strongly with the church’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity.  The allies who attend learn how to support the youth even if they don’t identify as LGBTQ+.  The youth are also seeing LGBTQ+ adults as successful and living ‘normal’ lives.
 
Jameson is a Friendship Church member who started attending Friendship in 2018 and became a member in 2020.  He feels that, as Christians, Friendship Church is putting their words into action by helping to provide safety and shelter for all.  The Youth Drop-In Center communicates to youth that our church supports the values we proclaim.  He is a professional counselor with personal experience in this area and is grateful that his mental health practice, the Bolingbrook Pride organization, and Friendship Church are coming together with community support to show action, not just talk.

PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Family of Lesbians and Gays) meets at Friendship at the same time as the drop-in center and helps family members and allies learn how to support the youth.
 
Friendship Church is not just a building, it is a safe place with people who are supportive and loving and who put their words into action.
 
*Michelle Braxton has been a member of Friendship United Methodist Church since 1983.  She has severed on numerous committees, been a member of UMW, and has been an active leader and participant in the music ministry.  She is currently part of the music ministry, worship planning, mission & outreach, and JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion).

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