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Lacking Church Upbringing, Holtville Pastor’s Wife Fully Engaged With Youth Ministry

HOLTVILLE — (Summary: Youth ministry leader, a late comer to Christianity, discovers her calling as an adult.)

Although she didn’t grow up in the church with a foundation in the kind of Christian education she now directs, Heather Norris has excelled in her role and as a pastor’s wife.

“I did not grow up in a church, so giving kids an opportunity to learn about the Bible is gratifying,” Heather Norris said during a Feb. 29 interview at Cornerstone Community Church in Holtville, where she is youth ministry coordinator and her husband, Hayden Norris, is pastor.

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“Children that age are still impressionable, have good memories and soak up new material like sponges,” she said.

“I don’t feel any pressure, but I choose to serve with the Vacation Bible school and Kids 4 Truth (youth ministry program),” Heather said of her roles, which ultimately support her husband’s work in the community. She has served in her position at the church for three years.

Cornerstone Community Church is at 128 W. Sixth St. Established 106 years ago in Holtville, Cornerstone has nearly 140 congregants. Worship service starts at 10:15 a.m. Sundays. Following the opening hymns, children are dismissed to attend their own church service programs.

The need for Christian education

Heather Norris explained the church aims to help children identify their life in Christ and not just what their peers say.

“I became a Christian in high school when a friend invited me to a youth group in Santa Clarita at a local Baptist church,” she recalled. “I was a miserable teen searching for a purpose and identity. I really wrestled with it. But the pastor answered all my questions. I ended up in a youth group there where we studied scripture and sang music and had games.”

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Eventually, Heather Norris went on missions with that church to Antigua and Tijuana and invited local residents to worship service and Bible classes.

“I would like children to understand going to church is not just because their parents bring them,” Heather Norris said. “God wants children to believe in their own hearts. It’s not just a Sunday thing, but also when you pick a fight with your brother or a classmate out on the baseball field. We want to impart the Gospel message in everything we teach.”

The youth ministry coordinator helps do that through the programs she helps administer, including vacation Bible school that will take place June 15-19 at the church and Kids 4 Truth, a Wednesday evening program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

At Kids 4 Truth, students study the Bible and then break for crafts projects. In vacation Bible school, a theme is selected, typically a beach scenario, pirates or a safari that incorporates a theme in proper context, Heather Norris said, and then explains a biblical lesson using the theme as a metaphor.

Cornerstone aims to teach children Christianity’s timeline from Genesis to Revelation.

Heather Norris and Pastor Hayden Norris teach children the basics but Dylan Ruddell, youth leader, shows how to apply timeless biblical lessons to everyday life in the 21st century, Heather Norris explained.

Lynn Vanderlinden is Cornerstone’s mentor assistant, working closely with Ruddell. They meet with junior high school students on Wednesdays at 6 p.m.

“We generally have singing, praise songs, so they’re always upbeat and it allows them to burn off energy in a good way,” Vanderlinden said. “Dylan has a talk with them about a biblical passage that includes concepts that applies to everyday life. And the students can bring up any problems they may have, but it relates to the Bible passage he just presented.”

Vanderlinden and Ruddell go through the 66 books of the Bible one book at a time. The youth group is named “C3 Underground,” which refers to the three C’s of Cornerstone Community Church and the fact they meet in the basement of the building, or the underground.

Youth ministry embraces bigger picture of social engagement

“I love the C3 because it’s a good way to show students how the church cares for them,” Vanderlinden said. “We also explain Christ is always there for them, even if everybody else lets them down.”

Arriving soon is Cornerstone’s spring tri-tip barbecue fundraiser to help children attend summer camp. High school students go to the Hume Lake Camp, near Nazarene University in San Diego. Third- to eighth-grade students attend Thousand Pines Camp in Crestline (San Bernardino).

Children stay for one week while going swimming and doing crafts as well as attending chapel services.

A family camp is also held over the Memorial Day weekend when the Sunday service is held in camp along Lake Cuyamaca in Julian. Parishioners go fishing, hiking and do family Olympics-style competition. “I love it, since it’s a great way to get to know our members better and kids can make new friends or deepen friendships they already have,” Heather Norris said. “And we have a pie auction every January and potluck dinners throughout the year.”


This story is featured in the Mar 05, 2020 e-Edition.