June 20, 2021, Youth Sunday
Scripture: Jeremiah 29:11; 1 Timothy 4:12; Galatians 6:9
Hello! I’m Gina Cassellius, and I am a graduating senior this year. I have been at Plymouth since I was about 3 years old, and I have been a member since 2018. I have participated in pretty much every program Plymouth offered to me during my lifetime: I started in young voices with Kristen Froebel, then Cherub, Chorister, and Youth Choirs, and even the Chapel Singers with Mary Laymon. I did bells with Cammy, dance with Carole, Theater Playshop with Janis, Peace Camp, Sunday School, senior high in the PF Room, and so much more. Throughout my time here, I have met so many people who have shaped who I am, and I have had many experiences that have taught me lessons I will hold onto forever. The most important thing I learned from my time here is how I fit into the world, especially as a young person. I think this is something not everyone has a chance to learn. In a lot of communities and spaces it can feel like the voices of children and youth are not heard and valued. But as we just heard the children say in 1 Timothy, “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young.” Young people see the world in a different way, and that is so clear from what you see here at Plymouth. If you talk to the kids here, I guarantee you will learn something new every day.
The significance of what I have learned about where I fit in as a young person has come from the experiences I have had as both the little kid and the big kid. As the little kid, I worshipped the big kids, and I feel that they taught me who I really was. I especially think about my first year in Theater Playshop. I was going into third grade at the time, my older brother was going into fifth, but there were even middle and high schoolers in the play, which was kind of terrifying to me but also exciting, because I knew those big kids from church and I loved them. The best part was that they loved me, too. At the time that I was entering into third grade, my mom had somehow convinced me to get my hair cut super short into a pixie cut. I didn’t have any friends with that short hair, and it wasn’t common, at least at my school, to see little girls with “boy-like” hairstyles. I personally liked my hair, but I grew to hate it when I was constantly called a boy, not just by my peers, but even by adults around me. I distinctly remember crying at a playground because a little boy had asked me if I was a boy or a girl when I had purposely worn a pink skirt that day to diminish any confusion. Now I obviously do not hold my gender identity to such high importance, but at the time it bothered me greatly when others did not see me for who I was. My view of my hair changed when one day I was sitting with some older girls at Theater Playshop, and one of them told me she thought I had the cutest haircut ever. I still ended up growing my hair out in the coming months, but knowing that one of the cool older girls liked my hair made the comments from kids my own age in the meantime much less substantial. Beyond my own vanity, from this experience I learned who I had to be to the little kids once I became one of the big kids.
Through my time being one of the older kids, I began to understand what it really meant to be a role model. I believe you can be a role model to people at any age, but in my experience it is most important when there are younger people looking up to you. This is so important because it is a cycle that will never end. I learned who to be from the people above me, then I taught it to those younger than me, who will soon teach it to even younger kids. Being a role model isn’t just about doing or saying the right things, I think it’s most important to show the people around you how you hold yourself as the best version of yourself you can be. I’ll admit that throughout my time working at Peace Camp, it didn’t come naturally to me to energetically join in in every game and activity, because that really isn’t who I am. Even as a little kid I was never overly excited to play games with big groups of other kids, but when I did join in I always ended up having fun. Generally, the times I participated were due to the influence of someone else, so as a leader when I was older, I have always tried to make an effort to get everyone involved in activities, even when it feels like the hardest thing to do. It’s a small cost to pay to be a little uncomfortable for a few minutes when you might be making a younger kid’s day a lot more fun. I know I can owe it to the kids older than me for getting me outside of my comfort zone on quite a few occasions, and I think I became a better person for those experiences. Being a role model like that is so amazing because most of the time people don’t even realize you’re doing it and you have a better time yourself in the process.
The role I saw young people in was not always what it is today at Plymouth. When I was little, I felt like the community of youth was much more separate from the greater community than it is now. That is the greatest improvement that I have experienced here throughout my life. This shift became most apparent to me at the beginning of high school. This was the first time adult members began asking the youth for their input and opinions on issues and concerns of the church. I had never really considered that they wanted to hear from us, and the funny thing is that it seemed they had never really considered that we wanted to share our side with them. This disconnect is something that happens far too often between groups of people, especially youth and adults, yet so much can improve for both groups when they are connected. I felt my voice become greatly valued while I was a teenager at Plymouth. I’ve even been able to serve on a board, and I saw the cycle continue to work when I recruited a younger person to take my spot next year. Now, I see children much younger than me more active in the greater Plymouth community than I have ever been. I believe Plymouth will become a better place each day because of the increase in the impact youth are having here.
This fall I plan to travel all the way to Montreal, Canada, to attend McGill University. People always ask why I chose McGill or why I wanted to go so far away for college. My genuine answer to that would be because I love my home in Minnesota so much. At this point I don’t plan on staying in Canada forever, and I think taking a break and exploring somewhere new like that will only make me appreciate this place more. It is true that distance makes the heart grow fonder. This is something many of us have learned this past year, especially about Plymouth. It can get exhausting going to church every Sunday, singing in the service, and going to choir or meetings every Wednesday, but when you get away from it for a while you really realize how much you love it. I’m eager to go to college in the fall because I’m excited to get that chance to fully understand what I value the most in my life, but I’m pretty sure the community here at Plymouth, including all my little friends, will be one of those things I value most.