Daring to lead when tragedy befalls

By Pastor Kelly Chatman

I read a recent headline that stated, “Florida teens staged a walkout to protest gun violence in solidarity with their peers, and these future voters are going to change the world.”

I want to thank God for the leadership and witness of youth. Young people have been known to carry God’s voice of liberation, justice, and compassion in the face of resistance. This vocation is just as true in the church as it is in society.

“The Lutheran Youth Organization and its triennial youth gathering have been at the vanguard of the church daring to lift up new and emerging voices of freedom and liberation.”

I had the pleasure of serving as the director for youth ministries in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from 1995 to 2000. At that time, our office had responsibility for 500,000 high school-age young people across 11,000 congregation in the United States and Caribbean.

The opportunity to work alongside amazing youth leaders was an absolute blessing. Before I ever met those youth leaders, an amazing network of parents, Sunday school teachers, pastors, and congregations had nurtured and mentored them in their faith. I am pleased to see a number of those young persons are pastors and congregational leaders today.

I observed firsthand an amazing Lutheran Youth Organization (LYO) hosting its Triennial Youth Gathering. It was like witnessing the United Nations in session. LYO and its youth gathering have been in existence for more than 100 years. This organization has been at the vanguard of the church daring to lift up new and emerging voices of freedom and liberation. LYO speakers included the Revs. Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, and Bernice King. (You can believe there was always backlash and resistance.)

“Aren’t you just a little excited to know we are a part of church body with the time-honored witness of investing in young people as a force for justice and freedom?”

Throughout its history, the church has invested in young people and their faith and leadership, daring to make a difference in the world. During my years working directly with young people, I witnessed them standing against discrimination and injustice, even in the church. During the past 100 years, Lutheran youth have protested the war in Vietnam, have participated in civil rights movement, and have been far ahead of our denomination in the commitment to diversity, inclusion, and racial equity. LYO members were trailblazers in the issue of sexual orientation in the church.

 

YOU MIGHT BE WONDERING why I am writing about LYO and the Lutheran youth gathering now. Da! Have you noticed the response of young people to the tragic shooting at Parkland High School? That sounds at least a little familiar to what has been going on in the church for more than a century. Aren’t you just a little excited to know we are a part of church body with the time-honored witness of investing in young people as a force for justice and freedom?

So, let’s turn our attention to guns and violence. Let’s listen and pay attention to our young people because on these issues we have not done so well. Young people are once again leading the movement (processional), much like someone we will soon follow on a donkey, entering into Jerusalem.