Each year, students at Strawbridge UMC in Kingwood prepare their canvases, mix their palettes and channel their inner Bob Ross.

The late-celebrity instructor with his signature pile of curly hair believed everyone had inherent artistic talent and only needed practice and encouragement to excel at the easel.

And the student ministry, composed of 7th through 12th graders, takes that message to heart at their annual Bob Ross night.

Not only do the youth dive head first into their creative endeavors, but they also channel Ross’ warm style of support, Director of Student Ministry Kristen Tropeano explained.

For instance, at the most recent event, held in July, a student leader made a sign reading, “Make Bob Proud.” “Or be encouraging to those around you,” Tropeano said.

Ross is known for saying, “We don’t make mistakes; we just have happy accidents. ”That’s a mantra the students adopt for the evening. “It’s an art night, but it’s also really sweet,” Tropeno said.

The students watch a projected video lesson and paint along. “We pause it now and then and let them all catch up,” Tropeano said. And, artists are also welcome to just paint whatever they feel like. “It’s just a time to be creative, relax and have fun,” Tropeano said.

Strawbridge UMC students join for a number of different art nights each year. There have been sessions dedicated to sand art, soap-carving and Crayon melting.

“It’s a really nice evening each time,” Tropeano said. “I have some students who do not miss a single art night.”

She explained that the offering really took root during a natural disaster. “Hurricane Harvey came through, and Kingwood was underwater,” Tropeano said. “We were trying to think of ways for students to really process what they were going through.”

She and then colleague Rev. Dr. Eric Pugh began reading about art therapy. They hosted an art night using debris and broken bricks left in the storm’s wake as art materials. Students smashed the bricks into pieces, then created mosaics.

The art nights remain a means of catharsis, Tropeano said, amidst a steady stream of stresses – from flooding to ice storms to a global pandemic. Simply being a teen can result in a number of anxieties and challenges – and art can be a way to heal and communicate emotionally.

“We just haven’t stopped since,” Tropeano said.

There was even a Zoom Bob Ross night during the COVID lockdown.

Before the art nights, Tropeano talks to students about God’s creation and our role as co-creators.

“How are we co-creating with God?” she asks. “Sometimes that could look like carving soap. Sometimes, it’s making music – or creating systems of social justice. It could also look like taking care of our neighbors.”

The art nights are only one way Strawbridge UMC Students connect in conversation, fellowship and discipleship.

All summer, for example, they join for Theology at the Theater. The local cinema offers $5 films on Tuesdays. “We go and watch a movie together,” Tropeano said.

Then students gather at a fast-food joint and discuss the film’s meaning. “It’s actually really easy to find spiritual stories within pop culture, if you’re willing to look for it,” Tropeano said. “It’s really about getting students in the practice of looking for God.”

In 2017, Tropeano and Rev. Pugh began offering immersive spiritual learning experiences (I.S.L.E.) for the students at Strawbridge UMC. For instance, they led a trip to see early Methodist landmarks on the East Coast. “There’s something different about standing where history happened,” Tropeano said.

There was also a journey to Alabama to learn about Civil Rights. Students walked across the bridge to Selma in Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s footsteps.

One year, the youth went to St. Louis to learn about faith in art, visiting a museum as well as a graffiti wall. Another trip brought students to New York City to learn about the intersection of the sacred and secular.

The youth have headed to Galveston to learn about Juneteenth and to Houston to visit the Holocaust Museum.

Strawbridge UMC wants to equip youth. “We expect students, when they leave home, to be able to name and claim their own faith and not just that of their parents,” Tropeano said.

Opportunities for education and fellowship, the development of friendships, playing games and even creating art have a role. “They’re all simple, easy ways to introduce students into seeing God everywhere, every day,” Tropeano said.

For more information visit, www.sumcstudents.org.