b'Leading the LambsMorrows extraordinary youth pastor finds a new calling, and a new homeBY TIA SWANSONPastor Brenda Ehlers in some of the many capacities in which she tended her flock: blessing the animals, lead-ing Bible School, giving the weekly childrens sermon.I t is not every pastor who spends a Sundaythan the court system. The circle includes a media- then. But they dont actually have anywhere to go. evening teaching teenagers how to cut Sheet- tor, the victim or victims, as well as the juvenile whoEhlers has seen to that; she has ferried hundreds rock with a straight knife.has committed the crime and his or her supporters.to the corn maze in Chester; taken dozens bowling, But then Brenda Ehlers is regarded as aThe group discusses what happened and why, andswimming and to laser tag; packed up carloads for pastor like almost no other. the victim is given the time and space to explain thea winter getaway to the Frost Valley Y camp and to For20years,shehasledthechildrencrimes effect. Everyone together decides what theshop for Christmas presents for needy children. and youth programming at Morrow Unitedsolution is to make the situation right, Ehlers says. Ehlers has a similar group for high schoolers. The Methodist Church in Maplewood, the stately edificeThe juvenile has 30 days to complete the solu-at the corner of Ridgewood and Baker that considerstions tasks. A student caught tagging a garage, for itself an integral member of the community. Ehlersexample, might have to wash and/or paint the ga-is central to that integration. rage, write an apology note and research how graf-Not only has she run all the summer program- fiti affects neighborhoods. In fact, the program has ming open to members and nonmembers alike become so popular it has been adopted at Columbia from Bible school and her Peace and Nature campHigh School as well as at both middle schools.to the justly famous theater camp; she also overseesNo matter what program, Ehlers desire is always the Friday night youth fellowship meeting that rou- the same: to meet kids where they are, and help them tinely draws students from across the two towns andgrow up to be secure, serene, caring adults.across all faiths. She once said that JYFJunior Youth Fellowship WiththelateMaplewoodpolicechiefJimmy exists not so much to provide religious instruction DeVaul, Ehlers also founded the towns restorativeto youth as to give them somewhere safe to hangPastor Ehlers making spaghetti with a long-ago member justice programa program that seeks to settle casesout with their friends. Middle schoolers want toof youth fellowship. The annual spaghetti dinner raises money to defray the costs of building supplies and regis-of wrongdoing through a community circle rathergo somewhere on Friday nights, Ehlers explainedtration for the week spent repairing homes in North Jersey.26/ matters magazine / summer 2023'