By Fred Koenig
United Methodist Church children and youth workers in the St. Louis area took up the topic of Ferguson during their monthly meeting on November 20 at Kirkwood UMC. Most hadn’t been asked about the situation in Ferguson directly, but they know it is an issue the children and youth are facing.
“Even if they aren’t asking about it or talking about it with their parents, they are seeing it on the news every day,” said Andrew Jones, director of Next Generations at Morning Star UMC in O’Fallon.
Jones was a public school teacher during the Columbine shooting, during which he saw children begin to question their own security in places they had always felt safe. This was even more pronounced when he was a school counselor during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He knows that although things are relatively quiet in the St. Louis area at this time, tensions remain.
For some the situation has already hit close to home. Assistant Pastor Michelle Shoger of New Hope UMC in Arnold said the mother of a girl in her youth group was called into active duty in the Missouri Army National Guard when the governor declared a state of emergency and activated the troops. Others mentioned that they know children with family members in law enforcement who have been putting in long hours policing protests.
Jennifer Finley, director of children and family ministry at Manchester UMC, related how the situation is on children’s minds, and they can draw their own conclusions.
“We were teaching the story of the good Samaritan, and asking the question of who is your neighbor, and one of our kids responded, ‘What about the people in Ferguson?’” she said.
The youth workers have seen posts from parents on Facebook that are sometimes disturbingly divisive.
“The kids are taking sides that mirror their parents, just like with politics,” said Ryan Gibbs, director of youth and growth ministries at Webster Hills UMC.
Jones offered two documents to the group relating to talking to children about tragedy and the situation in Ferguson (http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/talking-about-ferguson#). He also suggested setting up prayer stations for youth to pray over and reflect on the situation, and set up several examples of low-cost prayer stations, using things like a scrabble board or a notebook, that could be used in a youth meeting (http://practicalyouthministry.com/prayer-retreat-for-high-school-students).
“These prayer stations allow youth to express themselves in a way that is intimate and personal, yet anonymous,” Jones said.
The regional monthly meeting of youth workers has been taking place for years, but was adapted to include all of Next Generation Ministries (children through college-age) three months ago. People interested in learning more or participating in the meetings can contact Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.