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In May we held a town hall meeting to discuss the current crisis in adolescent mental health.  The event was very well attended and filled with lots of good ideas that the staff and ministries have been using to guide planning.

One of the most surprising takeaways from the event was that it gave us a lot of ideas for how to refresh our Wednesday Night Family Night.  Which was not something any of us went into the town hall expecting to get out of it.

At the town hall many folks talked about the need for more intergenerational activities.  There were also repeated calls for more opportunities to play together.  These ideas resonate with some of the best research on mental health that people, particularly children and adolescents, need a community to which they belong that is a safe place to explore themselves.

Liz Patterson was brand new in her position as our Christian Education Director, and she and I had both taken copious notes during the town hall.  We sat down shortly afterwards to put those ideas together and to brainstorm a Wednesday Night Family Night refresh.  We’ve spent the subsequent months fleshing out the details and recruiting the help.  

Each week will begin, as it has for the last decade, with a meal at 5:30, a potluck.  Then at six we will decamp from the Parlor to Memorial Hall, where instead of separate classes for different ages, we will all be together.  The room will be set up with centers or stations that everyone can enjoy and explore together.  One that will be there every week is a Puzzle Table, since we know from all-church retreats how much First Central folks enjoy puzzles (thanks to Liz & La Dell and Steve & Rick for donating a bunch of puzzles).  

One station will be a lesson and activity that begins at 6.  Drawing from the lessons and activities that have been used in our children’s classes for the last few years, but this time everyone of all ages will be invited to participate.  

Every week there will be an activity of play, art, or movement ongoing through the entire time together.

And at 6:30 we’ll have a conversation/discussion on the evening’s theme in the Family Room adjacent to Memorial Hall, for those who want to participate in that.  Again, all ages are invited.

We’ve broken the autumn down into four units of three weeks each (this also fits nicely with some obvious breaks, like for Thanksgiving).  Each unit will explore a theme, using the play, activities, and conversations.

First up is Finding Our Real Selves in a Digital World.  For example, during the discussion portion of our opening night, September 13, I’ll lead a conversation with these prompts: “Like a good game, the internet is essentially a laboratory for identity.”  What is your digital self?  How does it relate to your non-digital self?  How did the pandemic affect all of this?  We are all still learning this still new thing.

One reason we are opening with this topic is because a consistent concern at the mental health town hall was the role of social media and technology in the current crisis.

This three-week unit will be followed by Embodied Wisdom.  Church member, and therapist, Ted Miller will lead the conversations those weeks.  And our activities will involve Daryl Malena facilitating the labyrinth, Jennifer Forbes-Bailey dancing, and Nicole LeClerc with Tai Chi.  

The third unit will be Short Stories by Jesus, with activities and conversation about three parables Jesus told.

And we’ll round out the fall semester with a final unit on Faith Journeys, focusing on those questions that seekers might have about belief.  

Another station that will be available every week is a quiet or comfort corner with a bean bag or comfy chair, a quilt, stuffies, and more.  Because sometimes, especially after a long day of school or work, we just need a break.

And, yes, these plans are so different from what we’ve done before, an experiment really.  That we’ll be evaluating and tweaking as it’s ongoing, and before we plan the winter and spring.  And we are really excited about it and the potential it has to be fun and creative while also meeting the emotional and spiritual needs of the congregation.

It will only work as a participatory, intergenerational time of belonging and play, though, if you show up.  So if you can make Wednesday nights work for you, please come participate.


421 South 36th Street, Omaha Nebraska, 68131
(Located at the corner of 36th and Harney Streets)






First Central Congregational Church