Processing Tragedy – Resources for Families

Responding to Tragedy – Resources for Families

**a re-post from something I sent out to the parents of our church when Newtown happened**

Mr Rogers Look for the Helpers

 

(This picture of Mr. Rogers was posted here on Huffington Post today)

Dear Parent(s) & Guardian(s),

I’m sure you have all heard the news of today’s unbelievable tragedy in Boston today. I don’t wish to burden you with more, but have come across a few resources I believe may be helpful as you process this event as a family.

A few suggestions:

  • Limit children’s intake of news coverage. It is important for them to know what happened, but not to be flooded with images that can add to their fear, confusion, and (in some cases) vicarious trauma.
  • Listen and create space for children to process. They will have a lot of questions, and you won’t have a lot of answers, but its important to hear them and help them articulate their thoughts. For some kids who aren’t verbal, even drawing pictures of how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking can be helpful.
  • Do anything necessary to make them feel safe & loved. They might want to sleep in your bed, even though they haven’t for years – that’s okay right now.
  • Check out these helpful guidelines from the National Association of School Psychologists.

On this difficult and dark day, may we be comforted by God’s presence as we wait, as we cry, as we grieve, as we anger, as we ask questions which have no answers…knowing that God cries, grieves, angers, and asks questions today, too.

If there is anything I can do to care for you or your children during this time, please don’t hesitate to contact me at the number below.

Much love,

Morgan

Place Matters

Spaces are really important to me, because given some love and intentionality they become places. And places are where the kingdom of God happens.

Each time I have transitioned to a new community of students, its been really important to me to feel like students are comfortable and at home in their meeting space, whatever that looks like.

Or maybe its just me, and I can’t stand trying to talk about life or pray or tell stories under fluorescent lights. Fluorescent lights are the WORST. I feel quite strongly about it.

It helps that as we were navigating the transition with my current high school group, one of their first questions was whether we could paint the youth room. The pictures below will look much more attractive than the color in real life – trust me, it needed a bit of love.

One of the things I love most about teenagers is how sensory they are. The look, feel, smell, sound, taste of a place can make all the difference in the sort of gathering that happens there.

The shape of our spaces are indicative of what happens in them. They communicate something about the intention of the community that gathers and worships there. Our sacred places should be intentional:

  • How do they lead us into God’s presence? How do they mark that God is already there?
  • How do they encourage us to be with each other, in community?
  • What do they communicate about power and authority?
  • What do we dream will happen in that place?
  • How can a place tell us about what the kingdom of God is like?

Before we painted, I encouraged my students to think for a moment about a word or phrase that they hoped would define what happens in our place. I handed them brushes and explained that we could paint the words on our walls, and though we would paint over them, we would always know they were there, invisible prayers of what defines our sacred place:

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Youth Pastors are Pastors, Too

Some of the best pastors I know are youth pastors.

This post is in honor of two of them, who have recently been offered youth ministry positions at local churches. We graduated from seminary together, and while I’m not sure they would have said their dream was to pastor students, they like teenagers and believe that students deserve good pastors, too.

Youth ministry as a vocation gets downplayed a lot in the church. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has encountered some version of:

“But…you want to be a real pastor one day, right?” or “So, you’re like a baby-pastor?” or “Why did you go to seminary if all you’re going to do is youth ministry?” or “Are you only doing youth ministry because you’re a woman?”

I have to employ a very generous verbal filter when responding to these people; they push all my wrong buttons. My first thoughts certainly don’t sound pastoral.

The bottom line? The church needs to put its best people in youth ministry.

Because in 30 years, the church will look like youth ministry does right now.

Youth pastors need to be pastors, too. There is buzz around bringing good theology back to our youth groups, which is so good. Beyond that we need to be offering a coherent spiritual formation to these students that will allow them to continue their journey with God long after they leave high school. (I’m struggling to write a book about this sort of formation right now – what if we formed students according to what they want & love?).

Our students don’t need a grown up best friend. They don’t need one more instagram follower. They don’t need another facilitator-of-messy-games (though this is hilarious and fun). They need someone who will help them find language for their spiritual experience, point them toward the reality of the kingdom of God in our midst, and help them find ways to participate in the restoration of all things.

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Of course, its not for everyone. Many folks don’t feel called to youth ministry, and frankly just the reality that not everyone is meant to be a youth pastor.

From what you hear, you’d think youth pastors are supposed to be:

  • painfully, gushingly extroverted
  • goatee-d
  • young
  • cool/sick/wicked/awesome/word-of-the-day for relevant
  • minimally trained
  • temporary
  • sleep-disordered

The reality? Here’s everything you need to work with students and do an incredible job:

  • like teenagers (not just “love because Jesus loves everybody,” mind you)
  • be curious / ask good questions
  • keep becoming a whole, healthy human
  • keep cultivating an authentic relationship with God (faith & doubt included)

Thank you, Meghan & Jev, for being such good pastors and choosing to pastor students.

 

 

The Youth Collective Story

Youth Collective was the subject of my master’s thesis. I’m so thrilled that I was able to delve into something I’m so passionate about, and that has the potential to become a real and meaningful development in the world of youth ministry.

As I was asked to reflect on where Youth Collective / my thesis came from, I wrote this:

I hope I will always be a youth pastor. I think it is a part of me now, inherent in the way I see the world. I’m sure this is what I was made for. I also doubt it. I’m excited and full of ideas and schemes and visions while all the while absolutely terrified.

Youth Collective is the expression and dream of one such vision, a new way of forming and loving students through a local, collaborative, ecumenical student ministry initiative. Coming to this place has been a personal and professional journey.

Most of the emphasis during my youth ministry experience and training revolved around production and programming, structuring and planning, doing everything in a way that would guarantee numbers and success and students devoting their lives to God by the dozens. I did well with the theory, exercises and events. I understood how teenagers developed, what tactics, words and illustrations would “meet them where they’re at.” I also had no idea who I was, how I related to God, what questions to ask, or how to be with these students in a way that drew them to Jesus sincerely.

This process has led me through a myriad of ministry and education experiences. Collectively, by way of challenge and encouragement, they have refined my gifts and solidified my calling. Through internships at churches across the country, formational seminary education at The Seattle School, and a total of almost 10 years in youth ministry, I have gained a deeper understanding of the privilege it is to walk with students as they try to follow in the way of Jesus.

I believe student ministry can be done well theologically, creatively and relationally so that students are encouraged to become more and more the people they are created to be. I believe students are an essential part of the church’s identity as the body of Christ, pursuing justice and compassion as we partner with God in restoring the world. I am passionate about recruiting, equipping and encouraging a team of caring adults to love students by inviting them into authentic community, embodied liturgy, and conversations around faith & doubt.

I have become the sort of youth pastor that knows students and pursues them in mentoring relationships, engaging them in conversation and creating space for us to wrestle with our faith and doubts together. I believe every effort should be made to connect students with the larger life of the church, and that intergenerational relationships are mutually beneficial and priceless for both teens and mentors. My students are encouraged to participate in the kingdom of God in their everyday lives, and on their good days they know that God loves them. They are safe in their imperfection and doubts, crave the compelling stories of the biblical narrative and bravely express themselves in creative ways.

This is not sexy ministry. It is messy, ambiguous, and students don’t dutifully report the three points of my youth talk in the car on the way home from church. Students aren’t showing up in droves to give their life to Jesus in a David-Crowder-induced worship frenzy. Our conversations aren’t crafted to coerce students to faith out of fear or obligation. Students aren’t even guilted into attendance, but rather encouraged to get rest, to participate in the activities they love, and to remember the presence of God during their normal day. This approach relies on cumulative formation rather than instant gratification.

I love the church. I desperately want to be a part of helping her love students and serve them in meaningful ways. I have had the privilege of meeting some incredible pastors during seminary, women and men who are asking brave questions about what it means to be a community of faith that participates in revealing and creating the kingdom of God in our midst. I would work with them in a heartbeat, but they lead churches that don’t need to spend funds on hiring a big, nuanced staff. They either can’t, or don’t wish to, hire a youth pastor for the students that belong to their communities.

Of course, they want their students to be well cared for, and not all well-intentioned and generous volunteers are trained or prepared to intentionally form teenagers in the way of Jesus and cultivate their desire for the kingdom. They just aren’t sure what that looks like for their particular community yet. They are drawn to the authentic, ambiguous, messy process of formation that students are especially receptive to, and distrust programs as anything other than a vessel for meaning-making.

What would it look like for local churches to partner together and jointly support a youth pastor? How might a shared student ministry revolutionize the way we pursue formation with our students? What if churches, volunteers and parents were supported, equipped and also empowered to love teenagers in their community?

Youth Collective: Collaborating with local churches to love students.