As ministers, we are experiencing a great challenge in trying to figure out how to best serve the people of God amidst a truly unique and trying time. COVID-19 has required each of us to make changes in how we live. It has also challenged us to think about what matters most to us. The fight for racial justice, amplified by the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, has made it all the more real to many people, that the black community is still struggling for equality. As an educator, I have seen this play out in the lives of my students and how they are responding each day to what seems to be an ever-changing reality. What matters to them becomes increasingly clear when I receive requests for an extension on an assignment because of a familial situation or because the stress of their reality is becoming too much. Students, and youth in general, are looking to find places of solace because other places like schools and houses of worship have been closed to them. While they struggle to find sacred places to lean on, it becomes increasingly clear that our youth are themselves sacred and that their experiences have been challenged in a way that has threatened their security. The involvement of youth in the fight for racial justice, has made it all the more apparent to me that they are sacred and their lives, their words, and their experiences matter.
Places of comfort have been disrupted and what is sacred to us is in a constant state of flux. My experiences as an educator have prompted me to think about the sacredness inherent in the youth I interact with every day. These young people have such resilience, but this resilience should not mask the real harm that has come to them because of COVID-19, and the harm that many of them have been experiencing their whole lives at the hands of injustices, many of which are systematic. While this pandemic has created new challenges, it has also exasperated harsh realities. Realities like the injustices that many students of color experience, as well as their families. Our youth, who utilized schools as a way to escape abusive situations at home, have now been made to endure these situations without a safe outlet. Our youth now no longer have the opportunity to connect with their friends face-to-face. They are no longer able to connect with mentors that have been lights amid the darkness in their lives. I think it is safe to say that we have no right to dismiss what is being experienced by youth in the name of resilience. We must honor their struggle and look for ways to provide comfort and hope to them during this time. Their sacredness demands it.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:3-6, NRSV). Jesus is harsh and specific here and his message is one I have spent some time contemplating, especially in light of the experiences of children and youth due to this pandemic and their responses to racial injustice. To enter the Kingdom, we must learn from and engage the youth in our communities. With his words, Jesus affirms the sacredness of our youth, placing them at the center of his mission and making it clear that there is much to be learned from them. At the same time, he also makes it clear that any harm done to children is an act that prevents entrance to the Kingdom of God. If it is our purpose to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth, then it is our purpose to make sure that our youth are supported and provided with opportunities that encourage them to grow and flourish into all that they aspire to be.
During this truly unprecedented time, it is of the utmost importance that we, who are engaged in the work of the Kingdom, or any effort to bring about peace, justice, and prosperity in the world, do whatever we can to protect the sacredness of our youth. This task requires that we break from the molds of how we were living and engage a new way of living. A way that places the youth at the center and encourages us to act when we see them struggling. We have a responsibility to welcome our youth as members of our own family. When we look at them, we must see them for the individuals that they are. We have no right to belittle their experiences or to make light of their situations. This has been made all the more real for me when I was able to witness multiple youth led protests within my city. A number of my students participated and a few were even leading. It was incredibly powerful for me, as an adult, to be able to bear witness to our youth using their voices to take a stand against racial injustice. Seeing hundreds of youth lining the streets provided a testament to how vital their voices are in every conversation. They, like the rest of us, are experiencing this world in a way that will affect them and what they do going forward.
If we truly want to acknowledge our youth as sacred, then we must turn within ourselves and be prepared to do what is necessary to uplift them. The Kingdom of God is home to our youth and therefore we must strive to bring that home to our present circumstances, especially during this pandemic and the continuing fight for racial justice. We cannot forget this. Our youth are sacred and if we hope to bring about the Kingdom of God, then we must place them at the center.
- In what ways are you working to protect the sacredness of the youth in your life?
- How can we begin to encourage our communities to put our youth first in ways that honor their sacredness?
Elianna Lucas is a Theology Teacher at Archbishop Murphy High School where she also serves as Co-Director of Campus Ministry. In her positions she is able to carry out her passion of working with youth She is completing her first year of the M.Div. Program at Seattle University.