Congregational church welcomes new youth ministry director

Wilton Congregational Church has a new youth ministry director — New Haven resident Lydia Gajdel.

She succeeds Ken McGarry, who served as the church’s youth ministry director from 2000 to 2016. He was ordained on Sept. 24.

Gajdel was hired as the church’s interim youth ministry director in August and became its permanent director in September.

Since Sept. 11, Gajdel said, she has been working with children in grades six through 12 and their families “to provide opportunities for spiritual growth, community building and service” in several ways.

She is responsible for Wilton Congregational Church’s Sunday school for sixth, seventh and eighth graders, as well as its new weekly youth groups for middle and high school students.

The Rev. Anne Coffman, senior minister at Wilton Congregational Church, said the idea to create youth groups stemmed from a six-month period of “study and discernment,” after which the church “realized that young people in middle school and high school also need weekly gatherings.”

“Young people need a safe place to gain spiritual grounding, make friends and have fun,” said Coffman. “We want to provide that space and time.”

The middle school youth group meets every Sunday from 2:30 to 4, and the high school group meets every Sunday from 5:30 to 7.

“Part of youth group is doing local service work,” said Gajdel, “so we partner with organizations in Wilton to engage in community service and help in whatever ways necessary.”

The youth groups also go on field trips “to have fun outside of church,” she said. Later this month, for example, the youth groups will be going to the Haunted Graveyard at Lake Compounce.

Gajdel said the youth groups also do a yearly mission trip in June — the goal of which is to “nurture the whole person and provide a space where teenagers can feel comfortable being themselves.” Next year students will go on a mission trip to West Virginia.

All these events, said Gajdel, are “open to everyone from the church and the community.”

Before coming to Wilton Congregational Church, Gajdel was in seminary at the University of Chicago Divinity School and worked for St. Paul and the Redeemer Episcopal Church, where she did liturgical planning, youth and young adult programming and communications.

Before seminary, Gajdel worked for a national nonprofit, coordinating and supervising case management for a resource center in north Philadelphia.

“I worked with high school and college-aged students who were engaged in volunteer service as case managers in low-income communities,” she said.

“Much of my work was focused on helping them integrate their service into the rest of their lives through ongoing trainings, supervision of their work, and one-on-one and group reflection opportunities.”

Gajdel said she also has experience working in hospital and jail chaplaincy, and is “currently a postulant in the ordination process for the priesthood with the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.”

Plans for Wilton Congregational

Gajdel said the Wilton Congregational Church has spent the last year “prayerfully and critically thinking about what this community needs in terms of youth ministry, and creating a strategic plan that reflects those needs.”

“I’m excited to put some structures in place so that we can be creative and innovative with what youth ministry looks like here,” she said.

Gajdel said the beginning of her tenure at the church is “all about making sure that there is regular programming available to these kids and helping them to feel like they have a place in this church.”

“Once the programming is in place and structures built, we can begin to be creative and go deeper into our faith lives with things like youth-led worship, relationship-based community service and fun community building events that everyone can get involved in,” she said.

“The church is a place where these kids can bring their whole selves, and I want our programming to reflect and foster that.”

Wilton Congregational Church is at 70 Ridgefield Road. Information: 203-762-5591,