The group prayer was part of an annual and national See You at the Pole event, held at many other area schools and thousands of schools around the country this morning.
“I’ve come every year since eighth grade at Lakeshore Middle School,” said GHHS 11th-grader Stephanie Hoover. “This year, it’s a little smaller than last year. But since eighth grade it’s grown. Eighth-grade year, we had like seven or eight people show up.”
This morning’s prayer at GHHS was led by Russ Gabel, a volunteer with First Priority of the Lakeshore — which organizes the annual events at Tri-Cities-area schools. He said the kids hear about it on Christian radio stations, at local church youth group meetings and from each other.
“I think church has to come into their world instead of asking them to come into church,” Gabel said.
Group prayers were also held this morning at Spring Lake High School and the local middle schools, and parents and off-duty teachers help out at some elementary schools, Gabel said.
“It kind of happens on its own,” he said. “We just kind of organize a little bit.”
Gabel has been a youth pastor in Grand Haven since 1998, formerly at First Presbyterian Church and now running an outdoor ministry called Freewater Experience. He said there have been as many as 80 or 90 students at the GHHS prayer in the past, Gabel said, and the lower attendance today reflects the reason he launched his outdoor ministry.
Gabel said many traditional church youth groups are struggling.
“There are a couple of groups that are really healthy, and those youth directors are spending a ton of time in the school,” he explained. “But a lot of youth groups are just really struggling to get any kids. Groups that were 40 or 50 kids five years ago maybe are struggling to get six or eight kids now.”
Chris Kreslins, youth pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Grand Haven, said Tri-Cities schools are receptive to First Priority’s work because they’ve built trust and respect the schools’ boundaries.
“Russ and I have been spending a lot of time in the school to get this kind of result here,” Kreslins said. “But if you’re not in there, it’s off the radar.”
First Priority of the Lakeshore clubs meet in area high schools, Lakeshore Middle School and Spring Lake Middle School once a week during their lunch periods.
The White Pines and Fruitport middle school clubs meet weekly before school.
To see more photos from the event at GHHS, click here.