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Church helps with turbulent teenage years

A summit draws 54 young people for talks about everything from proper dress to proper dating behavior.

Published June 8, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - For three days last week, youth ruled at Souls Harvest Fellowship.

From morning to late afternoon, 54 teens talked about sex and dating, mood swings and how to get along with their parents. They listened to presentations on college preparation, money management and job interviewing.

The girls attended a mother-daughter breakfast Saturday morning while the boys played flag football. Then, for nearly three hours Saturday night, they sashayed back and forth on a foot-high runway flaunting their fashion savvy while a throbbing back beat shook the church's wooden pews.

The activities were part of the Get Yoked Up! teen summit for kids 13 to 19 at the church, 2361 Seventh Ave. S. Many of the 54 young people who registered for the day camp belong to the church's youth ministry. Others came from nearby neighborhoods.

The camp intends to show teens they can have a good time while showing respect for themselves and others, said Kimberly Anderson, the pastor's wife.

"I didn't expect them to open up as much as they did," she said. "I found that even on some of the topics like sex and dating, they were very open and very willing to share."

The summit began Thursday morning with a "Get Yo' Praise On" session followed by a "Speak Yo' Mind" rap session titled "Dating Christ's Way." After a lunch break, Anderson moderated a session called "Treat Her Like a Lady."

"People respond to how you carry yourself," she told the girls, who were seated on the left side of the church. "If you want to be treated like a lady, you've got to carry yourself like a lady."

She quickly cut to the chase.

"Ladies, you have got to have a standard. There are some things we ought to reserve. There are some things we should not show."

Halfway through the session, congregation member Mareneo Flournoy was equally straightforward with the boys, seated on the right.

"We need to get our priorities right," he told them. "Your penis size or your shoe size are not going to make you a man."

Much of the summit's emphasis was on dressing appropriately. The discussion returned again and again to the fact that the teens would be judged on their appearance, and that first impressions could make all the difference.

Church secretary Pauline Lemon, whose two children attended the summit, helped with the fashion show.

"The layered look was what we were going for," she said. "We wanted to bring multiple colors together for one thing, but we also wanted to cover the midriff."

The church's efforts to get kids to dress more modestly coincides with the Pinellas County School District's crackdown on what it considers inappropriate dress. The School Board recently adopted a new dress code that outlaws clothes shorter than midthigh length and requires that shoulders be covered.

"The school system has done what it can," Lemon said. "Now it's time for the body of Christ to take a stand."

A highlight of Saturday night's fashion show was a segment called "Holy Ghost Girl." Several teens modeled white T-shirts layered over longer shirts that were matched with knee-length or midcalf flounced skirts in pastel colors. The idea, Lemon said, was to show that young ladies could be attractive and modest at the same time.

But the high point of the fashion show was the formal wear segment, when couples moved gracefully up and down the runway dressed in elegant evening gowns and tuxedos.

Anderson and Lemon agreed that the evening was a great opportunity for the teens to show the adults what they were capable of.

"A lot of times when teens do their own thing, we judge them," Anderson said. "For that one night, we accepted them for who they were. And they were phenomenal."

[Last modified June 8, 2005, 06:35:27]

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