The day my family returned early from our vacation in Spain, my colleagues and I got this text from our rector: Please begin to coordinate efforts to provide support and prayer to people involved in your ministry area. Pray about creative ways to connect people virtually and be a community of wisdom and peace.
Since my family had to self-quarantine, I purchased Zoom Pro and invited the youth group to our first online meeting. None of them had used Zoom before, but it didn’t take them long to catch on. “By the time this is all over, you’ll be a pro at online meetings,” I joked. Just how long we would be using this technology was unfolding for us in the United States. Our first meeting went exceptionally well, with the highest attendance since Christmas.
Mid-week, I did a mid-week check-in. The goal here was to touch base and see how the kids were feeling one week into being away from school, their friends, and their myriad of activities. The kids’ spirits were mixed – the older ones missed their friends, while the younger ones welcomed the break from a hectic school environment. We played games and kept it light. I got an email from one parent who said, “My child resisted attending, but I encouraged him to log in. After the meeting, he was in much better spirits. Thank you for doing this.”
Again, the following Sunday, all of the youth attended the meeting. Yes, they’re a captive audience, and yes, maybe some of their parents made them – but not all. They could have slept in; I could tell some of them wanted to. But they also wanted to meet, to pray, to talk, to lament, and to laugh. We’ve gathered every Sunday to do all of those things for the last four weeks at the same time. Consistency is vital right now.
Teenagers always prove to be excellent teachers if we will be their students. Now is a time when we have a lot to learn from them about cultivating an online community. When I was their age, my technology was the telephone and MTV at my friend’s house because my parents refused to get cable. Now, many of them have the world in their hands. Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, and good old texting – they know how to be social from a distance.
Despite this, like most humans, they don’t always want to be physically distant. Teenagers have their friends who they trust, laugh with, make fun of other people with, play basketball with, study with, dance with, cry with, play viola with, and so much more. Being a teenager means cultivating deep relationships outside of their family nucleus, and they can’t do that in person right now. It’s confusing and unfair.
So what can a youth group meeting do about that? We talk about how we are people of faith and what that means during a pandemic. We wonder: What does it mean to believe in something we can’t see? How does our faith change how we process our feelings? How does it change how we see our future? Where does hope come in? Where do we see God?
Our prayers go deeper. When we pray, we open our prayer portals and pray for intercessions and thanksgivings. The prayers focus on others much more than themselves these days. We pray for those who incarcerated people, those who lost their jobs, those still working at their own risk, their grandparents and families, homeless people, and the people we serve who we are unable to serve in person right now. I’m blessed to be a witness to these prayers.
This Easter, our rector held evening worship, so I decided to go ahead and meet at our regularly scheduled time. I knew a few kids would watch a service with their family, and three of them did that. The other six were ready and waiting for our special Easter meeting.
We read the Easter prayer from Call on Me, which we’ve been using for morning prayer for the last few weeks. We talked, and then we had a scavenger hunt. I asked them to find: something older than their parents, something smaller than a paperclip, something they made, and something special to them.
Guess what? Every one of their something specials had to do with their parents or their families—every one.
After that blessing, Jaiya and I jumped into the car and dropped off chocolate crosses to all of my children. God richly blessed me as one of their spiritual caretakers on this journey of faith.
God is good, and God is near. Jesus rose. And we’re still here. I pray for all of you and your loved ones. May you be healthy, safe, and protected by God’s everlasting love. Amen.