TELLURIDE – After the sun goes down in Telluride, there isn’t much – at least, not much besides homework – for the community’s underage population to do. But every Monday evening at 7:27 p.m., a dozen or more local youth have found that elusive “something to do” – and they’ve found it through Young Life.
Young Life is a decades-old Christian youth organization whose mission is to share the word of Jesus Christ, and in a town that boasts more bars than churches and a population that is more apt to be standing in lift lines or biking down mountains than attending church on Sunday mornings, that mission may seem like a tall order.
But the Telluride Young Life chapter seems to be breaking stereotypes by garnering a reputation not just as “something” for young people to do, but something “cool” for them to do.
“It’s not like the ‘god squad’ thing at all – it’s really just a time to have fun and become comfortable with your spirituality,” explains Young Life member Christian Greene, a senior at Telluride High School.
A Young Life meeting is a far cry from the clichéd bible study group. Club, as Young Life meetings are called, entail organized games and activities – like the upcoming “Couch-o-Rama,” which pits two teams against each other in a creative twist on the traditional scavenger hunt (each team is equipped with a truck with a couch loaded into its bed, and each team must take photographs of their team sitting on the couch at different locations around town).
Club is also a time for teenagers to forge relationships with spiritually minded adults, and in the case of the Telluride Young Life group, adults that are, well, cool.
Two of Young Life’s local leaders – Andy Konigsmark and his wife, Dodi Darrow – don’t fit the mold as your typical minister and “church lady.” Konigsmark is the youth minister at Alpine Chapel; he is also a stand-up comedian who has performed at the Telluride Comedy Festival, and part-time bartender who once made it into the semi-final round of the reality television show American Gladiator. With a sculptured build more like Goliath than David, he indeed looks more like a sportsman than a man of god (he has, in fact, modeled for cycling and other sports companies).
Darrow had a high-paying job at a pharmaceuticals company in North Carolina before deciding to give up that white-collar lifestyle to be a missionary, building homes for families in Mexico and working alongside women in the coffee fields of Nicaragua. She is now the Telluride area director for Young Life. Together, the duo oversees local Young Life meetings, adding a distinctive air of “cool” to Telluride’s Young Life scene.
“They don’t fit into all the stereotypes,” Young Life member Greene says of Darrow and Konigsmark. “Being around them is laid back and fun; they help you to find yourself, without pushing you.”
“We don’t fit the typical mold,” Konigsmark agrees of his and Darrow’s deeply religious underpinnings. He says that he never imagined himself becoming a minister, but the significant role his childhood minister played in his life helped pave his road to the divinity.
That relationship, he says, “opened my eyes to wanting to have that same kind of impact on kids. I don’t want to be seen as this un-cool religious person. I want to be seen as a normal guy who cares about [kids’] spiritual wellbeing,” he says of becoming a minister.
Darrow, meanwhile, says she felt compelled to follow a more religious path after volunteering with her local Young Life chapter in North Carolina. “I felt like God was telling me this is what he wanted me to do,” she said of her first volunteer experiences with the Young Life organization. She ended up quitting her job and selling her house, spending the next several years as a missionary, then enrolling at the Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., where she met Konigsmark. He graduated with a master’s in divinity and she with a master’s in theology, after which Konigsmark was offered the job as youth minister at Alpine Chapel. They were married May 2009; daughter Emerson Claire was born this March.
Of being the couple charged with guiding the community’s youth through the Young Life group, “We play games and do fun stuff, but we also try to get kids thinking about God, spirituality, and what they believe,” says Darrow, her Southern accent palpable behind a winning smile. Young Life has had a presence in Telluride for close to ten years, but she took over as area director last year. She says that while it can be difficult to overcome religious stereotypes, especially in a place like Telluride, she is beginning to feel that she and Konigsmark are earning trust within the community.
“I feel like people who are looking for something, and live in Telluride, with the mountains and extreme sports, can feel like they find that something in the rush,” she says, adding that while Telluride may not be known as a particularly churchgoing community, it is a place where parents can take comfort in knowing that the community as a whole is concerned about the wellbeing of its kids. “Telluride is a community where everyone is looking after and taking care of each other’s kids. We hope that we’re seen as people who want to take care of this community’s kids, by giving them hope and encouragement,” she says of her and Konigsmark’s role with Young Life.
Young Life is open to all denominations and those with no religious background at all. The organization will host the first annual “TellurIdol” singing competition on Dec. 7, at the Sheridan Opera House. The competition is open to kids and adults, with a grand prize of $1,000. Auditions will be held Nov. 10, 6-8:30 p.m., and Nov. 13, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., at Christ Church, 434 W. Columbia. For more information, contact Darrow at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 626/429-4424.