CRANBERRY TWP — Dutilh United Methodist Church’s recently hired director of student ministry has some good news for parents: You are still the biggest influence in your teens’ lives.
Bud Fickley, along with his wife, Grace, and 19-month-old son, Tripp, joined the Dutilh community in January. Fickley brings experience to his role of ministering to Dutilh’s young adults.
After serving for two years as director of youth and children’s ministries at Slippery Rock United Methodist Church, Fickley, 31, spent eight years as director of youth and program ministries at the First United Methodist Church in Murrysville.
During those years, Fickley worked many aspects of church ministry — running programs for everyone from preschoolers to senior citizens.
But for an economic downturn, Fickley said he might have been in a completely different career.
“I was majoring in mechanical engineering at Grove City College, but I had been involved in church and ministering teenagers and adults my whole college career,” he said.
The Taylor Allderdice High School graduate got his mechanical engineering degree in 2009 — in the middle of a recession. Throughout college, he had grown increasingly involved at Slippery Rock United Methodist Church.
“Grove City is obviously a Christian school,” he said. “While I was attending school, I had a sense that I didn’t love the engineering world.
“My graduation came at the same time as the 2009-2010 recession. There was a hiring freeze at the company where I had had internships my entire college career,” Fickley said.
“God used that as my Jonah and the Whale moment,” Fickley recalled, explaining that though he was trying to head in one direction, God was sending him in another. “No one was hiring. And right about that time, my pastor approached me and said, ‘You have a call to ministry.’”
The Slippery Rock church was hiring a student minister, and the pastor offered Fickley the job.
Over the next couple of years, Fickley realized his “detour” was really more of a vocation and developed a passion for youth ministry.
“I spent 21 months at Slippery Rock and then went to First United Methodist Church of Murrysville” he said. “It (Slippery Rock) was a part-time position and I wanted to take the next step.”
“We are so excited to have Bud join our ministry team,” said Tom Parkinson, senior pastor of Dutilh. “His enthusiasm, experience, and example are a great fit for Dutilh and he is already making an impact here.”
In addition to continuing some long-standing traditions such as the Rise Against Hunger Lock-In and a summer mission trip that have been important components of Dutilh’s youth ministry, Fickley has brought new ideas for engaging young people in their church.
He is particularly excited about Youth Week, set June 17-22. During that time, students will engage in a variety of activities including local missions, service work for the church, games, team-building activities and Bible lessons.
“Youth Week this summer is on top of vacation Bible school,” he said. “But its programs are designed for teenagers.
“The idea is to come in, serve in the vacation Bible school in the mornings, have lunch and then have programs in the afternoon — service projects, activities, Bible lessons.
“There’s a lot of VBS ideas, but we step it up to make it appropriate for those in the seventh through 12th grade,” Fickley said.
And new ways to engage the church’s young people are needed, he said.
“Teenagers will experience pressures at home from their parents, pressures from friends at school and from society to behave a certain way,” he said.
“And at the same time they are still developing major portions of their brain. It’s no wonder they make mistakes,” he said.
But, Fickley said, “Parents are still the biggest influence on teens. Studies and anecdotal evidence point to parents being the biggest influence on faith, work ethic. What they see in their parents is what tends to be the result in the students.”
That’s why Fickley has two types of youth meetings every week, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sundays.
“Group meetings are on Wednesdays and small group meetings are on Sundays,” he said. “The small groups are more in-depth discussions. The group meetings are more fun and we don’t dig as deep into stuff.”
“Teens are going through such profound life changes,” Fickley said. “Being there as they go through these revelations about God, love, the people in their lives — it’s great.”
The best part of his job at Dutilh, Fickley said, is that he gets to focus just on teens rather than the various auxiliary roles of worship leader, assistant pastor and program coordinator that accompanied his previous jobs.
Despite the long hours inherent in student ministry, the role has definite perks, he said.
“Every time a kid has that eye-opening moment where they realize, This is who Jesus is — and that moment looks different for every kid — it’s the best part of my job,” he said.
“The first time I get to have a conversation with him or her after that moment, you can see the difference in them, that realization.”