Kids attend ball all of their own
Macayla Butler might only be nine years old, but she’s no stranger to galas.
The rising fourth grader and her younger sister Madison were among the dozens of youngsters who got all dolled-up for Union Baptist Church’s Red Carpet Youth Gala at the Hawthorne Inn last weekend. The gala, now in its third year, has become an annual tradition for Macayla.
“I like getting dressed up,” she said. “The most important thing I like about my church is to see my pastor and his wife everyday and sometimes, they bring famous people.”
Macayla’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Sir Walter Mack Jr., lived up to her expectations during the Takeover Youth Conference, which was staged August 17-19 and encompassed Saturday’s gala. The event, which included a series of workshop for students in grades K-12, was headlined by rapper Kel Mitchell, who starred in Nickelodeon’s hit show, “Kenan & Kel” and the film “Good Burger.”
“I got two autographs; I got one picture, and he gave me three hugs,” Macayla said of Mitchell, who spoke during a conference worship service Friday evening . “I cried because I love Kel. He’s funny. He’s a good actor.”
Mitchell, now 33, is a popular motivational speaker for youth and hosts a youth-focused web-series called “Ask Pastor Zeigler” with his pastor. He spoke to the students about his faith and the importance of making positive choices in their lives.
“He said he loved Jesus,” reported CJ Green, a rising second grader at Middlefork and a running back and wide receiver for the church’s Character Football League. “…He told us how he got past school.”
The former child star got rave reviews from youth and adults alike.
“I was just as excited about him being there as the children were,” confessed Dr. Mack, who has led the massive congregation for more than a decade. “I watched ‘Kenan & Kel’ all the time on Nickelodeon.”
Mitchell’s appearance capped off a day of conference activities and workshops for youth in grades 5-12 on Friday and was followed by a full slate of workshops for the elementary school crowd on Saturday. The more than 200 youngsters took part in a variety of games and workshop activities, learning about everything from preparing for college to how to combat bullying.
“We have some great students, and it’s not just Union Baptist kids. It’s kids from all over the community,” said Kia Hood, the church’s youth program director. “They’re an example of what church should look like, just people coming together.”
The semi-formal K-5 gala, which began that afternoon at 3 p.m., and the 8 p.m. affair for grades 6-12, were created to give the youngsters an opportunity to get dressed up, kick back and just enjoy themselves, Hood explained.
“Tonight we’re just going to celebrate and have a good time,” she said. “We’re a very balanced church. We believe that you should be balanced in everything that you do. I want them to understand that you can be young and Christian and still have fun.”
Union Baptist members Jennaira Massey and her husband Damion brought their two girls Jaleyn, 12, and Madison, 8, out for the Youth Takeover for the first time this year. Jennaira said she felt it was important for the girls to learn they could still have fun in a church environment.
“They can also have fun by going to parties and doing some things that are done in the secular community and still live a Christian life,” she said. “There’s more to church than just the teaching.”
Mack said the conference and gala were designed to reach out to the young people in a way that resonates with them.
“It came out of a need. We have about 250 young people that regularly attend our ministry,” explained the pastor, who thrilled the youngsters at the gala by hitting the dance floor and allowing them to them teach him some of the latest moves. “It’s important for them to know how important they are and today when we’re dealing with this post-modern culture, the church has to find more innovative ways to relate the gospel message to that generation.”
The Takeover Youth Conference is one of many ministries that Union Baptist has for young people. Macayla, the second of three children can attest to the array of opportunities the church affords its younger members.
“I step, sing, mime dance and for CFL, I do flag,” she related.
Her mother, Christy Butler, a Pepsi employee, said the youth programming was part of what attracted her to the church nine years ago.
“They have a lot of stuff for the kids. They’re very active. Dr. Mack really pushes them and Miss Kia, she goes above and beyond,” she remarked. “It opens their horizons to other people. It helps to build their people skills.”
The gala has become a much-anticipated event for her whole family, Butler reported.
“I love it. It’s great,” she said. “We need to have stuff like this for the kids because if you don’t give them something positive to do, they’ll go for the negative.”