Over the years, I’ve attended many youth gatherings, even organized a few. But none were like the one I attended on Sept. 20, 2019, when the Manitoba Youth for Climate Action called students to gather for a Die-In in Winnipeg.
In solidarity, I and a number of Mennonite Church Manitoba pastors stood on the sidelines as hundreds of youth gathered, including a number of youth from our congregations, and “died” together. After a few minutes of lying on the ground motionless, they then rose up singing, clasping hands and swaying in mournful motion.
As I witnessed, I wept.
This scene, along with the stories I hear from youth, parents and pastors, have caused me to ask a number of questions: What do our children need from us in these days? What do they need to hear and experience in our congregations? What is ours to live and give?
As I’ve walked with these questions, responses have emerged both from within me and from the voices that surround me. Within I hear: Do your homework; expand your knowledge; seek wisdom from people who have given themselves to understanding the changes and the consequences; and, most of all, listen to young people.
So I have set my feet on this path.
I recall a conversation I had in the summer with a high school graduate. I asked, “When you learn about some of the changes happening, what feelings begin to arise?” Her response: “It’s frustrating to me when adults do not take what is happening seriously. Don’t they think about their grandchildren?”
Sobering words that I need to carry within me.
This past fall, in an effort to hear voices of wisdom, I attended an evening lecture at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg entitled “And His Hands Prepared the Dry Land: Political Theology of Climate Change.” It was there that I heard the words “faith, hope and love.” This was a framework of response offered to us by David Widdicombe, and it has stayed with me, in particular his words about love: “The church must afford the maximum amount of encouragement to the young people who are courageously and eloquently attempting to change the direction in which we are headed.” (See more at bit.ly/37gOYOk.)
Encouragement can take many expressions, and I am trusting that our congregations will exercise their imaginations to find real ways to offer the maximum amount of encouragement, to love our children in ways they most need from us at this time.
One image that comes to me is to have our children experience our congregations as “living labs of creative hope,” bodies of faith where lament leads to learning, anxiety leads to hopeful invention, fear leads us to trust in Jesus, and our life together is permeated by love.
May the Spirit make us bold in embracing the faith, hope and love that is ours to live and to give.
Kathy Giesbrecht is the associate director of MC Manitoba’s Leadership Ministries.