I made a journey down south to Atlanta, Georgia mid-April, it was a quick trip to but a rich one! I went with three of my children and youth ministry colleagues to attend a Christian Educator’s gathering at Columbia Theological Seminary. It was a wonderful time of learning that also included a half day of site seeing where we were blessed to visit the Centre for Civil and Human Rights and the Martin Luther King Juniors Historic Site (his birthplace, the church he grew up in and served and his gravesite).
The Centre was profoundly moving as we took in exhibits focusing on the American civil rights movement. One of the significantly heart-rending experiences was the lunch counter simulation. After viewing stories of the freedom riders and learning about their non-violence training we lined up to sit at a lunch counter, we were then invited to put on headphones, place our hands on the counter and close our eyes. At first, a soothing voice came through the headphones, reminding the Freedom riders that they were not alone and to remember the non-violence training that they had received, and then the sound of a door opening and an angry crowd approaching. And for what seemed like an eternity we listened to the hateful, vile rhetoric of racists, yelling and screaming up close, every hair on my body stood on end and I wept, wept for those that endured, wept for those hurt, and those killed and wept for all those who continue to be victims of hate.
God welcomes all, strangers and friends;
God’s love is strong and it never ends
I have been humming this John Bell song since I returned from Atlanta. It was a piece we sang during our Christian Educator’s Gathering at the seminary, a simple, yet clear call and reminder for all. It was a great few days of learning, collaborating, and sharing resources. We focused on the value of intergenerational learning and the need for faith communities to make space for multi-age opportunities. We spent some intentional time looking at using innovative technology to teach and curate resources. We also looked at the intersection of social justice and educational ministry and how we can better integrate walking the talk with all ages.
In this gathering of ministers, we also discussed some of the challenges of being church in these postmodern and consumeristic times, thinking creatively how to gather as communities of faith when the traditional time for worship on Sundays is not working for all. We reflected upon the relevance of church in society and continued the conversation of how “Sunday School” is an outdated concept that was put in place for a time that is not our present and may have led to generational voids in our faith communities.
One of the most surprising discussions we shared was around the impact of budget cuts in churches. We each have experienced cuts to budgets but for those of us from Canada never have we experienced cuts due to the need of hiring armed security personnel for the fear of attack from a stranger in our congregations. The conversations also went as far as to discuss the need for safety plans in regards to an active shooter. A number of those gathered in the circle talked about how their church buildings only allow two doors to be unlocked so that security can monitor who enters the building at all times. We learned that some of them are having active shooter drills when they have never had a fire drill. The fear is palpable and it broke my heart, and I continue to wonder about the impact on present and future generations as to how “the stranger” is viewed.
I did not experience or lose someone in the horrifying shooting at the Baptist church in Texas or in Charleston or in the Mosque in Montreal and I cannot imagine the horror and the ensuing anxiety, but I pray that communities of faith can and will continue to be a place of welcome, of radical hospitality, a place of sanctuary where God’s love is experienced and lived.
With hope, Jen