CHILTON — Teens file through the door seeking a comfortable spot to sit in the Upper Room (first floor of the convent building) at Good Shepherd Church. The young people maximize the available space by squeezing onto the chairs and couches that line the walls.
Newspaper clippings, highlighting the accomplishments of Jesus and Company youth group members, are displayed on a centrally located bulletin board. Graduation photos of alumni are found in frames to create a “Wall of Memories.” Paper fish, representing each current member, are mounted on the opposite wall to form “God’s Sea of Servants.”
For 20 years, Jesus and Company has helped Chilton students in grades 7 to 12 grow in faith through Wednesday gatherings, participation at youth Masses and service opportunities.
“I usually come right after religious education,” said Sophia Guerin, a sophomore who has been a member of Jesus and Company since seventh grade. “We sit and talk with our friends for a while. Sometimes we have snacks and play games. Most Wednesdays we have a talk that deals with a chapter of Scripture. You have to plan homework around this. It is one of my priorities during the week.”
Students are invited to drop by at any time and stay as long as they wish from 5:30 to 9 p.m. A young person reads the Scripture passage. Jerry Koenig, a longtime volunteer and youth group leader, discusses the reading.
Koenig said that the students “keep him young.”
“Jerry is very funny and easy to talk to so you have an adult that can joke around with you,” said Guerin.
“(Koenig) enjoys the discussions we bring to the table,” said junior Alex Brandt. “We definitely challenge him on current issues.”
The students feel comfortable sharing among their peers.
“Everyone is very accepting,” said Brandt. “We have a few members who are not even Catholic who come in and enjoy their time here. They realize that they have to respect that this is a religious place.”
“I know that when I come here I can be myself and no one will judge anyone here,” said Guerin. “I normally talk to people here that I don’t talk to in school. I get to know them better.”
Prayer is also an important part of Jesus and Company, which meets year round. The young people recite a “Prayer to End Abortion.” If members of the group or family members are dealing with health issues, prayer services will be offered, usually after Sunday Masses.
Youth Mass is celebrated the third Saturday of each month. Jesus and Company members serve as lectors, ushers, gift bearers and other roles at the monthly liturgy.
“There is a signup sheet, so we can volunteer,” said Sarah Weber, a ninth grade student who read the petitions at the Dec. 19 youth Mass. “Last year, I think we mostly had seniors reading at Mass, so this year, I wanted to sign up.”
The young people also gather before the altar in preparation of the Eucharist at the youth Mass.
“Jerry pushes hard for that,” said Brandt. “It allows everyone to see that the youth are taking their faith seriously.”
Following the recent liturgy, Jesus and Company held a bake sale to raise money for group activities and outreach. In addition to local service, the young people sponsor children in Africa.
Senior Nathan Stenz, who joined the group this year, appreciates the service component.
“We do a lot for the Salvation Army,” he said. “It feels good to help people.
“I started going to Mass at Good Shepherd,” he added. “My church in Marytown is small and doesn’t have anything like this. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner. I really look forward to JC.”
Younger Chilton students await their opportunity.
“Everyone knows about (Jesus and Company),” said Weber. “I couldn’t wait until I was in seventh grade so I could go on Wednesdays.”
“It brings you closer to your faith and brings you closer to your friends who want to deepen their faith with you,” said Brandt. “You are not doing it alone.”