A Year in the Life: Pandemic Partnership Brings Antiracism Formation for Kids to Life
“The most important work of my life in ministry was made possible because of the pandemic.”
–Jen Holt Enriquez
“It is because of the pandemic that this work came about.”
Will Bouvel and Jen Enriquez almost certainly would not have crossed paths in “normal” times. Both are directors of Children’s Ministries at mostly white parishes in the Diocese of Chicago. Children’s ministry rarely affords the time to connect with the work of other parishes and distance usually makes joint parish projects impractical. Not so in zoom times. They were both struggling with how to guide children through Chicago’s traumatic summer images of the racial protests and riots and – before knowing each other – signed up for a secular six-week online class called “Talking to Kids About Racism.” After the first session, they chatted by phone and they quickly bonded over their shared passion to form children as disciples in Christ by connecting faith to a different way of life especially through the work of antiracism. They immediately started brainstorming how to bring this work of antiracism into their churches through the lens of faith. Will noted that he wished “we could do something.” Jen responded: “Let’s do it!” The class that would become Tell Me the Truth About Racism was born.
Jen and Will decided to aim for a class that would take place over Zoom in Lent 2021. The Zoom format was perfect because Will and Jen could be present in classes together and would be able to offer it at two different times on Sunday mornings to make the class accessible to more families in both parishes. Both parishes have family worship at 9:30, so they settled on offering one class at 8:30 and one class at 10:30.
The overwhelming message Will and Jen both heard from the online class where they met was “Racism is a LIE.” They both saw that this lie contrasts with the TRUTH of God’s love. Kids understand the concept of lie vs. truth, and that is how they framed the story, which would be called “The History of the Lie.” Will began to put this story to paper, and Jen reached out to the army of Forma mentors and cheerleaders that have become friends over the years, to share their work, sharpen the message of antiracism, and wonder how to address the theology of God’s truth. These partnerships also would not have been likely without zoom. Sometimes it felt like the whole Episcopal church was connected to them in this work! Jen and Will are both conscious of their whiteness and knew that they needed persons of color to check them along the way. After seeing a blog post in BuildFaith, they reached out to Miriam McKinney via a Zoom conversation, which resulted in Miriam walking with Jen and Will as a consultant for the project. Crystal Lewis, co-leader of the class where Jen and Will met, and a person of faith, was an additional woman of color with whom they consulted.
Since there would be no Sunday morning informal chatter when they could tell parents about the antiracism class for kids, Will and Jen knew they had to communicate early and often with the parents. Advent was around the corner and both Will and Jen were preparing take-home bags for their families. They had only a skeleton of the Lenten class, but they decided to put a letter describing the class in with the Advent materials. They agreed to reach out to parents individually via text or phone some time before Christmas.
Around that time Jen attended a Zoom book discussion of Raising White Kids with the author, Jennifer Harvey and realized the book would be an opportunity to lay some groundwork with parents. In “normal” times, weeknight offerings for parents were not “a thing” at either parish, but Will and Jen hoped the opportunity to Zoom in after the kids were in bed would be appealing to parents. They decided to try a Raising White Kids book study group, during the time between Epiphany and Lent, when their class would start. They hoped to get buy-in from parents by offering a chance to talk about racism and how racism would be approached in the Lenten class for kids. Parents from both parishes Zoomed in and there was rich discussion.
Meanwhile they continued to refine the History of the Lie. Google docs made it possible for them to revise together over phone calls. Will soon realized that the Godly Play method would be the best way to tell this story, and because of the pandemic he was well practiced at telling Godly Play stories via Zoom. Jen stretched her comfort zone to imagine doing “circle time”/ movement activities with kids via Zoom. Will began to learn to play the guitar and get comfortable with the idea of playing and singing with kids online.
What emerged was a 5-week Lenten series over Zoom designed for kids age 4 to grade 5, starting with an intro session on Ash Wednesday. They will celebrate the work of the children at the Easter Vigil at their respective churches. Jen and Will are thrilled that over 30 children between their two parishes signed up and demonstrated near perfect attendance! Individually they had developed successful children’s programs at their churches, but it was their relationship, camaraderie and mutual trust and respect – all developed over Zoom – that allowed the new program to come about.
Themes that emerged upon reflection:
- Logistics that would have been hurdles did not get in the way of imagining possibilities
- Zoom opened opportunities previously not explored
- Communication with families became intentional vs. prepandemic relying on coffee hour chatter and general announcements