Youth in the Time of COVID-19
Jesus said God’s Kingdom is like seeds—ones that fall all sorts of places—some being eaten by birds, others withering in rocky soil, and some bearing fruit. Other seeds grow into trees where birds make their nests. All the seeds, however, have that time when they are in the soil, and we don’t know what is going to happen.
On Pentecost in 2019, Bishop Shin visited St. Michael’s. Before he met with the vestry, I snuck in to ask him if our diocese was going to send a delegation to the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) in 2020—something that hasn’t happened in recent memory. He said he’d be glad to support the effort if I would serve as the diocesan registrar for the event. That conversation seemed like a seed.
Late in October 2019, the bishop told me I needed to be at diocesan convention to spread the word about EYE—so come November, I stood at a table at the convention with Elis Lui, youth minister at Christ Church, Bronxville. We handed out 300 flyers about the event and encouraged people to sign up to be on an email list for more information. Adults in our diocese got the word out to their youth, and by February, we had a delegation of 18 youth and 3 chaperones from diverse parishes across our diocese. We were registered for EYE in College Park, Maryland, had Amtrak tickets to get there, and plans for sightseeing in D.C. after the event. If the seed was the conversation with Bishop Shin, EYE in July was going to be the big tree.
COVID upended everything. EYE20 wasn’t going to happen. But the youth had worked so hard to apply to EYE and had expressed such enthusiasm about being part of our diocesan-wide delegation—our seed had already sprouted and was growing; we couldn’t let it wither and die because of COVID-19! I emailed all the adults who had put their name on that email list on the EYE table at convention, and we met—for the first time as a group—on Zoom. There must have been 20 of us there. We agreed that the EYE delegation of youth and chaperones should meet, and we wanted to bring all the youth of the diocese together too. Since our EYE youth delegation had set themselves apart as church leaders, we decided to have them take the lead in next steps with the diocese.
Members of our EYE delegation met on Zoom the Sunday after Easter. After getting to know one another and sharing their early experiences with the pandemic, the youth decided that they would like to invite all 6th-12th grade youth in our diocese to plan a service project that everyone could participate in at a distance. On May 3, over 40 youth and adults in ministry with youth gathered on Zoom to discuss the needs of the people in our diocese amid the pandemic. The youth decided to do a project that would serve those living in nursing homes and group homes, because they were unable to receive any visitors due to COVID. On May 17, the group gathered again and planned how they—and everyone in the diocese—could serve this vulnerable population given the realities of the pandemic. They decided to send cheerful cards and notes of encouragement to a different nursing home in our diocese every week of the summer—from June 7 to September 5. We got the word out to the diocese, and the youth met twice more on Zoom to check in and make cards together.
Meanwhile, the adults in ministry with youth kept meeting. After George Floyd’s death we discussed our desire to talk with the youth about racism, and we wanted to be equipped to do so. We contacted the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta about their Dismantling Racism Youth Curriculum. https://www.centerforracialhealing.org/. Using the curriculum requires training, and that training requires anti-racism training as a prerequisite. So, Carla Burns and the Diocese of New York’s Anti-Racism Committee offered up a pilot Zoom anti-racism training in advance of the youth curriculum training. Our Diocese’s Christian Formation Commission paid for the Youth Curriculum training out of the funds originally set aside for EYE. The upshot was that on the last Saturday of August, 17 youth workers—lay and ordained—from 13 different parishes, were trained to lead Dismantling Racism workshops for youth in 6th-12th grades. Then, at the end of the workshop, the participants said we’d meet up again in two weeks to discuss implementing the curriculum.
The youth-led Nursing Home of the Week summer service project has now come to a close. The seeds of that ministry have been like the sower who threw the seeds in so many different places. We don’t know how many cards were sent, how many youths participated or how the cards were received. We trust, however, in the mystery. God’s kingdom is growing.
Adults in ministry with youth in our diocese are now working together to keep sowing God’s seeds with our youth. The work is not yet finished. But we trust that there is life in these seeds. If you’d like to join our email list, email me: [email protected].