At first glance, the scene on Monday night looked like a typical teenage party.
Teens locked arms and screamed along to Shawn Mendes “Stitches,” stomping along as they read the lyrics on a screen.
A few moments later, they acted out for a reverse charades, trying to get a teammate to guess items related to boys or girls.
A typical Monday night, however it held a deeper meaning.
Toward the end of the evening, the same teens who moments before were raucous and wild, sat transfixed – listening to the word of God being read by an adult.
Welcome to Young Life Club, a group that ministers to teens in Culpeper County High School and Eastern View High School.
Culpeper director Will Orr led the madness on Monday, greeting each teen by name, exchanging hugs and serving as MC of the weekly meeting.
Orr, who came to Young Life organically – he once was a member at CCHS – relates to the teens in ways most adults don’t. That is the mission of Young Life. To connect with students in the schools, invite them to these gatherings and hopefully help foster their faith.
Orr doesn’t count these teens as Young Life members, he counts them as friends. Alongside his wife Joy, he’s welcomed many of these students into his life and into his home – it’s not just enriched his life, but also theirs.
“That’s what it’s about,” Orr said. “The kids that show up to Club and our other stuff, they don’t show up because they saw a post about it or because they heard an announcement at school. They show up because they’ve been personally invited. They’re like friends with the leader. We spend time at the school and we just get to know kids and become part of the school.”
Coen King, a senior at Eastern View High School who recently signed a letter of commitment to play Division I football at the University of Virginia, saw his teammates going on Mondays to Young Life. He had never heard of it before, but he was intrigued. He went one evening and now has come back every week.
“Everyone likes everyone here,” King said. “It’s a good environment, it’s a comfortable place to go where you feel safe.”
King categorized himself as strong in faith, but points out not everyone who attends is. Connecting with his peers and with the adult leaders – there are eight total plus Orr – has helped strengthen him.
“I don’t read the Bible but when we do little Bible scriptures at the end, it just helps me,” King said. “It helps get a little closer to God.”
For Orr, getting closer to God was just a byproduct of making a friend more than 10 years ago. A 2008 graduate of CCHS, Orr recalled being a freshman and meeting then Young Life leader, the late Jeff Stables.
Stables knew Orr’s name immediately and as Orr said, took a liking in the young man.
“There was nothing cool about him, he was a dad who wore cargo shorts and had a buzz haircut,” Orr said. “There was nothing on the surface that made him seem cool. We just become best friends. Before I knew it, I was hanging out with him in our spare time.”
Orr graduated and then, as he sheepishly puts it, got into some trouble with the law. The first person he sought out was Stables who didn’t judge him or punish him – he reflected on their lessons that he had been teaching through Young Life.
“Jeff was the person I went to, because we were best friends,” Orr said. “We talked about it and he reminded of stuff he had been sharing with me all along about God and life and how it’s supposed to work. That was a turning point in my life.”
Now, Orr serves as that beacon in the life of countless youngsters.
During a skit involving a magician, a wizard and an angry landlord, King portrayed the role of “Steve the Wizard.”
It was all just silly fun that had the more than 30 in attendance rolling with laughter.
“Will is obviously older, but when we hang out it’s just like a teenage friend,” King said. “Even though he’s the leader of Young Life, he’s just like a friend.”
It was that friend that King was able to lean on when it came time to make a choice for college. He had several offers and Orr was his sounding board.
“They relate to the same stuff, all on Twitter.
“I just prayed every night leading up to that decision,” King said.
Prayer is what led Noelle Brown to Young Life. Her mother, Mandy, was a longtime leader with the organization and she’s been around it since she was little. So when she went to CCHS this year, she knew exactly where she belonged.
“I love church, I love all the people here and I was already used to the environment,” Brown said. “I get to communicate and share the worship (with my friends), it makes it much more special.”
Orr’s connection with the students is apparent. Like his mentor, he’s a dad too now – maybe minus the cargo shorts – but he still has a way of reaching out to the youth.
“He puts it in a way where I understand it a whole lot more,” Brown said. “He also uses it in real life situations like in the modern world.”
During Monday’s meeting, leader Shawn Sweeney shared an embarrassing story about a recent drill at his school. He was larger than life, making the kids laugh but he brought it all back to the Bible and how Jesus would handle similar situations.
The room was silent, all eyes were on him and the kids were transfixed.
It’s those moments, when the adults share stories about their lives and relate them to the students that truly shine.
“It just makes it so much easier to be comfortable,” Brown said. “Here you get to talk about the Lord with your friends and you get to connect with people who are like your family. It just makes it so much easier to talk about.”
For Orr, it’s simply giving the kids a safe space to be just that – kids.
“The idea is just for kids to let loose and have fun,” Orr said. “It lets them act their age for once and not feel pressured to perform and be someone they’re not. It’s goofy, it’s high energy. It all funnels down to the end of the night when one of the leaders opens up the Bible and talks about Jesus. That’s what we’re all about it. Young Life wouldn’t exist without our belief in Jesus.”