God Squad, Lakeside Chautauqua’s famous children’s ministry program for ages 4-9, is celebrating its 20th birthday this summer.

The celebration begins at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 26 on Cedar Avenue in front of Bradley Temple.

Lakesiders of all ages are invited to celebrate by singing “Happy Birthday” together. Birthday treats will also be served.

Guests are encouraged to bring God Squad memorabilia from the past 20 years, including T-shirts, cards, photos and any other memories to share. Lakeside will be collecting vintage God Squad items throughout the summer to create an archive of the program’s history.

During the summer season of 1994, God Squad began under the leadership of Herb Goetz, former associate for Religious & Educational Programming, his wife, Mary Ann Goetz, and Betsy Timmons.

Meanwhile in Columbiana, Ohio, Chip Richter was leading worship in his local church and recently made the decision to go into music ministry full-time.

Richter’s father in-law, a long-time Lakesider and cottage owner, submitted a copy of Richter’s first album, People of Destiny, to Goetz at the end of the summer of 1994. He hoped Lakeside may want to book Richter for a concert.

Goetz agreed that Richter would be great for a concert, but wanted to tell him about something else happening in Lakeside.

He began to describe “The God Squad” that had launched earlier that year, and asked Richter if he would be interested in leading the program.

Surprised by the drastically different offer, Richter replied, “But I don’t do kids’ music.”

“I know, but I think you would be great at it,” Goetz said.

Fortunately, Richter accepted the offer to begin the next God Squad session in the summer of 1995, transforming and reshaping both Lakeside’s children’s ministry, as well as Richter’s musical career.

“It’s really quite amazing to see how the Lord directs our steps,” Richter said.

Children and families have been blessed with the leadership and ministry of Richter and his family for 19 seasons at Bradley Temple.

Since 2005, more than 20,000 children have participated in God Squad activities.

Each session features live music, audience participation, age-appropriate lessons, crafts, laughter, cookies and lemonade.

God Squad is held in Bradley Temple, the home of youth and children’s programming.

Bradley Temple was built in 1887 through a generous gift from Helen Bradley in memory of her husband, Captain Alva Bradley, a ship captain on Lake Erie.

Over the winter, Lakeside Chautauqua raised the necessary funds to begin enhancements to the historic structure as a result of the #GivingTuesday campaign, a national day of giving on December 3, 2013.

Coinciding with the Thanksgiving holiday and the kick-off of the holiday shopping season, #GivingTuesday reminds people about the importance of giving by inspiring them to improve their communities and support charities and causes.

For the first time, Lakeside Chautauqua partnered with the national #GivingTuesday movement and introduced an initiative to enhance Bradley Temple.

The outpouring of community support was overwhelming, and Lakeside gives thanks for the generosity.

Joining the #GivingTuesday movement, more than 16 families and individuals gave back to Lakeside Chautauqua for the very first time.

With the generous donations, Bradley Temple received a new foundation, landscaping, electrical upgrades and interior improvements, including new paint and carpeting.

These renovations will allow families to enjoy many more years of successful youth programs, like God Squad, in Bradley Temple.