“The last time I wasn’t afraid I didn’t understand.”
So said one of the several teens I met with last week over pizza as several clergy and other adults listened to our young people talk about their fears in the wake of the Parkland shooting. I invited them to help churches in the diocese shape our worship services on Sunday, June 3, which is part of a gun violence prevention weekend. They were willing to do that, but first they needed to tell their stories – and we adults needed to listen.
Almost all of them mentioned that the first thing they think of when they get into a classroom is to locate the safest hiding place. Or if they had the chance to bolt out of the room during an active shooting, they had already figured out where would be the best place in school to go. They all were “freaked out” during the week after Parkland when several school systems posted armed guards in the hallways. “That made me more scared”, one person said. As to arming teachers, none of them liked the idea; and one girl sarcastically remarked, “there are a couple of teachers I would never want to have a gun.” When someone asked the others if they had had talked with their friends as to who would lay down their life for the other, almost all of them indicated they had a variation of that conversation. One girl said that she used to wake up in the morning planning how she would avoid bullies. Now she starts the day with the additional worry about someone coming into the school with a semi-automatic weapon.
The adults were stunned. Some of us were near tears. We really had no idea of the stress and fear these kids were carrying. It was hard for the adults to absorb that our youth are at a place in their lives that they can’t not understand the reality of the growing specter of gun violence. They gave me permission to tell these stories, and they were more than willing to be videotaped for their congregations (and the diocese); and several were willing to tell their story in person. As one priest said, the issue is brought home when we hear from people we know. The videos will be available for congregational use by June 3.
As honest as they were about their fears, they were courageous and clear about their commitment. Some of the kids helped organize their school walk-out. One girl helped organize the March 24th ‘March for our Lives’ event in Morristown, which drew over 20,000 people. Each of them wanted to continue their witness.
I went into the gathering hoping to give them a platform for the concerns and commitment. They took me up on it, and they will shape it in their own unique and wonderful way. What I learned – yet again, is that the best form of communication is listening. And that listening is an invitation to transformation.
Speaking of listening...
This weekend, beginning on Friday, the diocese will be invited to listen to the Revs. Carlye Hughes, Lisa Hunt and Scott Slater, candidates to be the 11th Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, tell their stories and hear their vision. I applaud Carlye, Lisa and Scott for their fortitude and faith as they come to meet the diocese. The Transition Committee has designed a platform for them, otherwise known as the “walkabouts.” I well remember the rather daunting task of addressing over two dozen sessions twelve years ago when I was a candidate. The challenge was made easier by the hospitality that was extended to my wife Marilyn and me. I know that the current Transition Committee has taken great care to offer the best hospitality possible to our current candidates. Members of the Committee certainly have offered welcomed hospitality to the diocesan staff.
Listening is a key ingredient in hospitality. Listen well – and trust the Spirit.