Back-to-School and Ministry
By Canon Myra Garnes
I love “Homecoming” services and celebrations in our churches as we launch the ministry year. It is a hopeful time for parents and young people. Perhaps many parents are cheering at the thought of sending their children to school, but it can come with some level of anxiety amid hope. Will there be an adult entrusted with their care? Might someone step in and stand up for all children and youth regardless of their race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status? These are the questions I encourage all of us to contemplate as we prepare for the academic and ministry year.
In a recent meeting with adult leaders planning for the 2023 Episcopal Youth Event, I was disheartened when three leaders of color, including myself, could not identify an adult (outside of family) who was considered a mentor to them as youth. We all found mentors during our young adult years, but role models were absent during our early formative years. My challenge for us living and walking as Christians is to see ourselves as mentors to all youth, inside and outside our parishes.
Xochitl Gonzalez penned an article in The Atlantic this month entitled, “Why Do Rich People Love Quiet?”; it offered friends and me the opportunity to revisit many encounters with peers as well as faculty/staff from our elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education. The article examines silence juxtaposed to gentrification, class, race, and white supremacy in the way that it can gaslight all of us. I have commended it to a mentee, and we will process it together this fall as she begins her college life as a Black student at a predominantly white institution (PWI). Mae-Mae Han offers insights into the hypervisibility felt by students of color at such institutions.
I encountered a Black family in my community four years ago when I saw a news report that they were suing a middle school for harm done to their son, Devin Moore. Turns out that Devin and his family volunteered regularly at Nourish Babylon, a community meal served at Christ Episcopal Church, despite not being members of the parish. After Devin reported to us that he was racially cyberbullied, a group of laity and clergy sprang into action to help Devin and his family find a new school and working to overcome this trauma. Devin went on to found #RaceToSpeakUp, an anti-bullying organization that includes a podcast and his first book, which will be released in October. I preordered a copy and hope you will join me in supporting this brilliant and resilient young man.
What is our role as people of faith who hold a love of Jesus and a belief in Beloved Community? I want to push us all in this back-to-school season to be mentors and a connection to the divine love of Christ in our churches, schools, and communities. I am envisioning spaces for youth to worship together, with time to converse and pray about how to interrupt the status quo and fight for the just world they imagine. Thank you for the inspiration, Devin…I will continue to speak up!
Canon Myra Garnes is the Officer for Youth Ministries serving on the presiding bishop’s staff in the Department of Faith Formation. Canon Myra leads a ministry with young people grounded in principles of social justice and rooted in the gospel. Together, they aspire to create moments in which they experience God and grow in their faith so that they feel loved and welcome others.