Claxton leads First Baptist Church youth

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Associate Pastor Andrew Claxton at First Baptist Church in Tillsonburg is excited to begin expanding their children's programming in the community.

"There are some different things I want to do," said Claxton. "Some different kids camps, and one thing I'm really, really looking forward to - I don't know what exactly what month, April or May probably, maybe March if I can swing it - I want to do some girls only and guys only events for Senior Kindergarten to Grade 3.

"The girls program is called the Princess Tea Cup Party. I've been to some churches that have done it before and it's been such a success. The girls show up in their princess costumes and they have their pictures taken with Prince Charming, and they do a couple crafts, and they learn to curtsy, and things like that. Then the 'real' princess shows up, an adult all dressed up, and she shares a story about how 'they're all beautiful and they are all princesses.' That's such a message that girls today need to hear - they're all beautiful and loved. I feel like there's such a need in the community to plant that seed, at a young age, for girls today.

"And not just for girls in the church, I want to be able to put it out to the community. It's free! Come!"

For the boys, Claxton is considering a Superhero Party.

"I really want to branch out this church to the greater community and see that happen. I want people to see there's so much going on here, so much fun, so much good. And it's exciting to see these positive influences... because there are some negative influences out there, a lot of bad stuff out there if we're not careful."

Claxton, who joined First Baptist Church as associate pastor in October 2016, works with Rev. Steve Amorin. He arrived in Tillsonburg after three years at Fellowship Baptist Church in Burford, but grew up in Oakville.

"That was my wife's church," said Claxton, who was commuting from Oakville to Burford.

"And now I'm community from Paris to here," he added with a smile. "We just got married in the summer, and a month before we got married the opportunity showed up here so I applied."

As associate pastor at First Baptist, his job mostly involves Family Ministries.

"Children, youth, from nursery to Grade 12, that's my primary focus. Also I preach every once in a while, and I do some music stuff as well... and some visitations on the side. Kind of a jack of all trades, you do a little bit of everything.

"Mostly, it's working with the youth and the children. We have three groups that meet every week - Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. So that takes up the majority of my time, and then helping with Sunday School as well."

Grade 9-12 is the Sunday night group, Tuesday nights are for Grades 6-8, and Wednesday is Grades 4-6.

"That's where I spend a lot of time... it's a lot of fun. The Sunday School stuff, I'm just starting to put my feet into that water, so to speak, and that's nursery to Grade 5.

"I love working with children and working with teenagers. I love their authenticity, I love their searching. I love their eagerness to learn, to grow. How they don't want to hide behind a veil. They want that help, they want input. It's just awesome that you don't have to dig with them, like sometimes you have to with adults and get rid of those defensive barriers we put up. Teenagers and kids are a lot easier to deal with for that sort of thing."

Some people in his field, once they hit the age of 30-35, begin to feel a disconnect, he said. They're not 3-4 or 5-6 years out of high school anymore. There are times when Claxton, 31, has felt it.

"There is that disconnect and I don't understand everything now, culturally. I like to think I did, but there's some stuff these days that kids are dealing with that weren't even on my radar when I graduated. And that was only 13 years ago."

He said it makes his job unique.

"Every day is different, every day brings its challenges.

"You have this ability to plant seeds in these kids' lives, although you don't always seem them grow into anything you do get to see these seeds get planted. On occasion, you see them really flourish and grow in maturity. I'm really excited to see that happen here as well. The impatience in me wants to see that happen now, but it takes time. It's like planting any plant, you have to plant the seed, you water it, and it takes time. With people it takes a little longer..."

In his bio it notes Claxton 'coming to Christ' at the age of 17.

"That's when I decided to become a Christian," Claxton explained. "I didn't grow up going to church. So I gave my life to the Lord when I was 17, and in high school, and felt called to the Ministry shortly after that."

Some students go through college or university not knowing what they want to do. Claxton knew by the time he was 18-19.

"It was almost like a dream honestly. It feels like a dream now," he said, describing the moment he decided to pursue Family Ministries. "I haven't really looked back since. The neat thing was, ever since that moment, door after door after door was being opened, so to speak. Opportunities in the youth group I was in at the time, high school, leadership opportunities. So I sort of dropped all ambitions to go into psychology and psychiatry and doing the science and math thing... because 'I'm going somewhere different.'"

His family was supportive of his transition to the church.

"They just want me to be happy, and do what I love. One think my mom always said, 'Make sure you're happy with what you do. Don't worry about how much money you make, make sure you love what you do.' Really, both my parents said that to me.

"For me, it was a calling. A real calling. That's where I'm headed, that's where I'm going.

"It hasn't been super-straightforward or easy," he admitted.

Before coming to Tillsonburg last Thanksgiving, his ministry-related jobs were part-time, so he also worked full-time in retail.

"About six or seven years of part-time ministry. So it was a really neat change (working full-time at the church). I needed a change - I was tired of working 60-70 hour weeks, and going to school and interning - I got my Master's Degree."

He appreciates the welcome he received in Tillsonburg, but notes it's a different type of community from white-collar Oakville.

"In some ways it was a bit of a culture shock for both my wife (Tina) and I, coming here. But we've been so warmly welcomed and so accepted, it's really neat being here. We're so thankful for the opportunity we have being here. It's been really awesome, really great.

"I really appreciated everyone's love and support. I think everyone in this church has been helping us try to find a house. We are house shopping... we've been looking since we've been here." 

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