On January 6th, I sat in my parent’s kitchen, glued to my computer as I watched protestors and violence storm the steps of our capitol. For a time, I was stunned and scared, texting my friends, looking over multiple news sources and refreshing my social media feeds to “doom-scroll”. It sucked my attention for hours, becoming the only thing my family and friends could really talk about. A few days later I was preparing to lead a theological reflection for our youth and turned over the questions of how to discuss the events with our youth. I didn’t want to ignore it completely, it felt wrong to not address the state of our nation – we want to be a space that encourages justice and works toward goodness, not one that ignores what we see on the news. But then again, all of our youth had to go to school the next day, their social media feeds were flooded with information about the insurrection, friends and parents were talking about it nonstop. Would we just be repeating what they have already heard before? What if what they really need is an escape? What if there is something bigger going on in their lives that this seemed inconsequential at this point?
As leaders we discussed the best way to approach this, and decided that offering time to talk about the highs and lows of our week, to check-in with where we are, and to center ourselves in prayer and even play games felt like the right thing to do. We could mention what happened, but we would not dwell if that is not what they needed.
There’s a balancing act that happens in ministry, and particularly youth ministry when it comes to pursuing justice, reflecting on the events happening around us, and creating a space where everyone can come together to just be. It takes knowing your youth, proactively having a space where they feel comfortable discussing heavy and potentially difficult conversations, but also giving them the freedom and opportunity to take a break and be. With the 24-hour news cycle, social media having news faster than we can comprehend, and everyone always wanting to declare their opinions on what is happening, it can be easy to stray away from the need to rest and the need for fun.
I am still learning how to create these spaces, to keep this balance between wanting to be aware of what is happening in the world and how it affects us and our neighbors, and taking time away from it to engage in light-hearted conversations, meditation, and games. There are times for youth group to be a place to engage in challenging conversations, for it to be a space of listening, and there are times for youth group to just be a safe space of comfort. It takes caring for your space, for your youth, and for yourself to know what is needed when, and to pursue it even if it doesn’t seem like the obvious answer. We won’t always get it right, but we learn and we listen, and we grow together.
So, it’s okay to take time to ask your leaders and youth what they want to discuss, if they want to engage in those conversations or they are burnt out over hearing the same story with different words. It’s important to hear what they have to say, and it’s okay if lesson plans change. In the end, we’re all just trying to create a community of love, trust, and grace, and there are so many ways we see this happening.
Written by: Tori Crook