Back to School
Updated: Aug 25, 2022
As school has begun this week, I have been trying to think back to my first day of school. I can’t really recall it, however. In reality, I’m just thankful to not be in school for once! But as I reflect on my school experience, one thought rises above the rest; school is very different now. The advance of technology has aided that for one. Ten years ago, nobody would have considered “online school” a viable solution for our youth, but in a post covid reality, it only seems clearer that this is the direction we’re heading. Young people too have changed. They are the first generation to have never not known the internet, cell phones, or even platforms like Netflix. It is also a generation that dawned with the events at 9/11, saw two “once in a lifetime” economic downfalls, witnessed a war in the Middle East, and saw a once in 100 year pandemic.
How do we balance the changing nature of the world and our youth with the profession of Jesus, “'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”? Perhaps as our kids, youth, and young adults recommence their schooling, we too as the church can recommit to them and the precedent stated by Christ. How do we advocate for their safety, for their freedom in getting to learn and explore, for their opportunities to discover themselves and who they want to be in this world?
Having spent the last two years doing work as a chaplain at Greensboro College, and working with the Wesley-Luther Campus Ministry at UNCG, I have to admit that I am amazed by the young people today. It is baffling to me that despite many of the challenges listed above, they continue to be, when surveyed, the most optimistic about our future. They devote much time to charitable causes and to communities. This must surely be the spirit present in all youth that led Christ to say the kingdom belonged to them. As the church, part of the ways we address their safety and freedom, and other opportunities, is by recognizing that they are not the church of tomorrow- but the living church of today. They live in a liminal space where they are both a promise for tomorrow and important today. We can treat their issues as important, their thoughts and questions as legitimate, and their unique needs as something worth addressing.
I applaud your efforts in raising food for the Spartan Open Pantry at UNCG and raising school supplies for various schools in our communities. These efforts directly address the ability for our youth to learn and grow in fruitful environments. For others so called, there are other avenues as well. I heard Rev. Dr. Robert Brewer state last week that young people today are the loneliest generation on record. When surveyed anonymously, young people of all ages answer the question “What is it you most need?” with overwhelming saying “connection to more adults in my life.” Studies show that youth with 5 strong adult figures in their life- people who are related or role models or people who nurture, give guidance or trust- succeed more often, and navigate the storms of their life much more diligently than those who do not have the 5 figures.
So as school restarts, let us remember that our youth are watching us. We can build a church, and continue to maintain a church, where youth feel safe, invited, and allowed to be who they are. We have the people, heart, and resources so that they trust coming to us- knowing they will grow, be challenged, and be transformed. This is our time to recommit to them, and to that ideal set by Christ long ago.
-Paul M. Freeman, MDiv