Last week I ran into a friend at Wal-Mart, and she said, “I saw the ad in the paper about your anniversary celebration, but I didn’t understand it.” While standing in the store aisle in the midst of the pre-Christmas rush, I really couldn’t explain the Saturday Night Group; in fact with lots of time to remember, I’m not sure that I can. How can one explain a golden anniversary celebration taking place in the midst of a reunion of former teen-agers who came together every Saturday night to stay 3 or 4 hours in a simple, dimly-lit church basement whose entertainment consisted of one pool table, one ping-pong table, one table foosball game, and an air hockey game? You’d have to have been there to understand it; even if you were there, you probably don’t understand it. I was there almost every time it met for almost 20 years, and I still stand amazed at its simplicity, its longevity and, most of all, its impact.
The Saturday Night Group met for many years in the Methodist and Christian Church basements. We gathered at about 5:30 to begin putting together our evening meal and stayed there until way late. We were an interdenominational, inter-racial Bible-centered group which had its beginnings in the early 70’s when such groups were not popular. Any high school-aged teen was welcomed, and many came. We never counted or kept a roll, because numbers were not important to any of us; our goal was to serve any and all that came. I knew the power of such a group because my Dad had seen to it that our church was the social center of our small Tennessee community, and he recognized that Christian gatherings could be fun and effective at the same time. My husband and I felt that a strong core of Christian youth could be instruments of change in the high schools and the community. It was the beginning of the drug culture, especially at the high school level, and our high schools were no exception. I have always known that God’s power can change us all, one at a time. I had lived in the Deep South and in the Mid-West and the North, and I felt that the only chance for true fellowship between the races needed to start in the church. True change can occur in the heart.
In the 70’s there were no stores open and few recreational opportunities available on Saturday nights, and that time of the week offered unrushed time. In my opinion, food and unrushed time to talk and the opportunity to play and work together are key ingredients for success with teens. The ping pong and pool tables got real work-outs. After the kids were full and tired, they were more likely to listen to Dr. Bryson’s Bible lesson. And they all knew that if they ate, they had to stay for the lesson, “No coming and going!”
I often thought that that he might be too hard on them and run them off; I have sense enough now to realize that his steady, loving presence (and discipline) was the glue that made my part (cooking and listening) easy.
Many adults helped on the scene and behind the scenes, but another rule we lived by was that if your teen was there, you shouldn’t be, because teens need time and space (away from their parents) to find out who they are.
Many parents were valuable to the program showing their support financially and prayerfully. When trip time came, they accompanied us and brought or sent food.
Because there were so many components to the Saturday night group, describing it is like the blind men describing the elephant. Some of these components were: