I’m Lucinda McCay, and this is how I’ve been living deeply.
“We were native Knoxvillians, had lived in Jacksonville for 8 years for my husband’s work, then moved back here to our hometown in 1980. People in our neighborhood recommended Cedar Springs. We came to the church, loved what we saw and we stayed. We volunteered in youth ministry almost immediately. Working with high school kids, you see them often come in hating it- being forced by their parents to come, sitting in the corner pouting or mad or lonely. The biggest joy is seeing that change over the four years they’re in there. You see them suddenly -at a camp or at a retreat, in a Bible study, somewhere along the way- understanding what we’re saying and getting a glimpse of who Jesus is, who He said He was, and believing it. The students change to joyful and happy and wanting to be your friend- wanting to talk to you about Jesus. It’s incredible. Well, I had also been working on staff in the accounting department and the church came to me and asked me to move from that office to the youth ministry office as a paid assistant. Eventually I would become assistant director for 10 years and then spent my final year, in 2008, as the director. So in some form, I was doing youth ministry here for almost 30 years. It was really exciting to get paid to do what I loved to do. I loved and admired every youth leader I worked with and worked under- they all used their strengths to help students and glorify God. Reflecting back on it, Jim Branch’s tenure as youth director in the early 1990s was a pivotal turning point for me and the students. He came from a Young Life background, and he believed very strongly that he should lead the leaders- to invest as much of his time as he could into the leaders. So he started doing that, and volunteer leaders just started coming out of the woodwork to be a part of that. He gave the leaders strength. They really became invested in the kids, and the youth group grew so big we couldn’t get into many church camps. They couldn’t hold 100, 150 or 175 kids. Fortunately, Jim was able to use his Young Life connections to get us into some of their larger, extremely nice camps.
I was astounded at the growth of the youth ministry. We had leaders investing in kids’ lives all over the place, and then Jim was pouring his life into the leaders. This was a paradigm I had never seen, and it was really working. We saw so many young men and women come to know Christ. Jim enabled us to do so many mission trips around the world, which really opened the students’ eyes. Jim and I also started the tradition of Cedar Springs students serving at Volunteer Ministry Center, which they just flocked to. But the thing Jim did that had the most impact on people, it seemed, was take us to Washington D.C. every year to live in the upstairs of an old AME church. We were sleeping on the floor, on mats- there to learn how to be homeless and how to serve the homeless. There was one shower for like 30 or 40 kids. This impacted our students so much- living on the floor, eating very minimal food, traveling out by subway to talk to the homeless community. You just learned life was different than you thought it was, and you came from great privilege. It was a hard thing to do, but it was so worthwhile. It deepened my compassion; changed how I viewed other people and myself. Privilege became nothing. We saw men and women who had almost nothing worshipping God. They cared about each other, and us! It was a lovely thing. So Jim really changed how we did things, but all the youth pastors I served with were wonderful and spiritually deep. Through it all, God taught me I can trust Him with small things and large things. I can trust Him with the hearts of the students. Quite a few staff at Cedar Springs right now came through the youth ministry: leaders like Andrew & MJ Keasling, Jeremy Johnson, Kathryn Ann Holt, Amanda Day, and Bethany French, to name a few. These were our students. Just recently, I took my grandchildren out to eat. The waitress came up to me and said ‘You don’t owe us anything.’ I said, ‘What?!’ She said our bill had been paid for and when I asked, ‘By whom?’, she pointed to a table where no one was sitting anymore. I was to later find out it was someone currently on staff whom I had served in the youth ministry. Now how sweet is that?”