Church youth group puts faith in action

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NAUGATUCK — What if church were a verb? That’s the question members of the Naugatuck United Methodist Church youth group have been pondering this year. And no, they’re not a bunch of grammarians.

They’re a bunch of teenagers out doing good—yes, good, not well. They’re taking on a variety of service projects with the aim of changing some notions about what church means.

“It’s about sharing the love of God,” explains youth group veteran Sara Behlman. “Even though we’re a small church, and we’re not rich, there’s a lot we can do.”

From left to right, Hannah Kim, Preston Bogan, Natalie Pugliese, Taline Agamy and youth group leader Ruth Urbina-Lilback discuss the teens' various service projects Monday at Naugatuck United Methodist Church.
From left to right, Hannah Kim, Preston Bogan, Natalie Pugliese, Taline Agamy and youth group leader Ruth Urbina-Lilback discuss the teens' various service projects Monday at Naugatuck United Methodist Church.

Behlman and a partner are planning to educate the congregation about cancer and raise money for the Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center in Waterbury. She says her mother has battled cancer and that she chose the disease for her project because it affects almost everyone, either directly or vicariously.

In fact, personal connections to their topics are motivations for many youth group members. Taline Agamy is studying the relationship between Christianity and Islam in Egypt. There, she says, Christians are a persecuted minority; her cousin hoped to become a heart surgeon in Egypt but his ambition was thwarted because of his religion. He is now a doctor in the U.S., she says.

Megan Torrice is learning about animal cruelty and plans to sell ribbons and donate the proceeds to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Torrice, who owns a horse, says another horse at her barn was abused when it was young and still experiences aftereffects today.

“Now it’s scared of everything,” she said.

Other causes include environmentalism, racial equality and bullying prevention.

These local efforts are part of a broader initiative by the United Methodist Church to encourage parishioners to “rethink church,” according to its Web site, 10thousanddoors.org. There, online visitors can learn about global projects, like malaria prevention in Africa. The message is church is about more than attending services and dropping money on the offering plate.

“We’re putting faith in action,” said Ruth Urbina-Lilback, one of the borough church’s youth group leaders.

The first group member to present his project to the congregation will be Anthony Torrice, Jr., who will share his research about literacy later this month. He is collecting new and used books for Read to Grow, a Connecticut non-profit organization that encourages parents to read to their young children.

Those who wish to donate can call (203) 723-6769 to arrange a dropoff or local pickup.