(OCA) - The national youth directors of several Orthodox jurisdictions have collaborated to offer a resource packet for clergy and lay persons to minister to youth and young adults in light of the recent violence in and around Boston.
The resource packet - it may be downloaded in PDF format here - contains a cover letter from the youth directors, three reflections on the attacks by adults, ten tips for speaking to youth groups and Church school classes about public violence, and a ten suggested steps for equipping youth groups and OCF chapters to respond to these tragedies (reposted below). Also available on-line is the OCA’s study guide, “A Christian Response to Terrorism”, originally compiled after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, provides prayers, scriptural references, and discussion questions to use with youth and young adults.
10 Do’s and Don’t’s of Talking to our Youth about Acts of Public Violence
By Mr. Andrew Boyd
- Don’t Tell Them Everything is Ok
If you are reading this article, chances are things are not “ok”. We often have an impulse to reassure our Youth, but insisting that “Everything will be ok” apart from being not necessarily true, is usually a way to make us, the adult, feel better. Stock phrases and pious platitudes often shut down conversation and railroad emotions. It’s an easy answer to difficult questions and uncomfortable realities. Instead, direct the attention back on the youth you are ministering to. Ask them how they are feeling, how they are doing, what they are struggling with and focus on listening to them instead of providing stock answers.
- Don’t Preach Blame
In times of irrational violence we all seek the stability of rationalization, namely in finding someone to blame. Our twenty-four hour cable news cycle will obsess in the endeavor, speculating as to which radical group, which political wing-nuts, which religious zealots, deserve the blame. From a Christian perspective, we all deserve the blame. Our separation from God, our willful disregard of His commandments creates this world of violence and patterns of suffering that we all live with everyday. Instead of dwelling on and giving air to the hate that violent groups and individuals are motivated by, focus instead on the positive response of Christians to such tragedies (aid, prayers, healing) and the opportunity that such tragedies give for all of us to witness our faith by loving our neighbor, even those who hate us.
- Don’t Do This Ad Hoc
Don’t ambush your youth group or Church School class with an impromptu discussion of a violent tragedy. Instead, give notice that this is your intended topic. Plan your discussion points if possible and plan to include periods in the discussion for your youth to share their thoughts and feelings. Try before hand to articulate your own response to the events and your emotional response to the images and stories from the tragedy.
- Don’t Have All the Answers
You do not have all the answers and pretending to is dangerous in any situation, but particularly in speaking about violent tragedies. Try to start your discussion with “I think” and “I feel” instead of stock dogmatic phrases like “The Church teaches...”. Try turning questions back to the youth when possible. For example, if a young adult says “What kind of God would allow this?” try responding with a question to the whole group “Why would the God we believe in allow this?” Guiding our youth towards the right answer is often a more effective means of teaching then merely didactic lectures.
- Don’t Get in Over Your Head
Ask for help if you need it. If you are a lay person, reach out to your priest, if you are a member of the clergy, reach out to a mental health professional or brother clergy. Likewise, if you think that someone in your care needs additional support, do not hesitate to refer them to clergy or to mental health professionals. Humbly helping is sometimes the best way to be a hero.
- Do Communicate
In the days following a violent tragedy, communicate with your youth as much as possible. Share what IOCC and other Assembly of Bishops organizations are doing to respond. Share what our bishops are saying. Point out where Christians are stepping up to help people. Share what the needs people might have who were directly impacted by the tragedy. Encourage them to help. Let them know that you plan on discussing this with them at upcoming youth events or meeting. After a crisis, these regular communications are a great way to let your youth know that the Church is responding, and that you are there for them (without having to come out and say it).
- Do Make Space to Listen
Let your youth know that you and other clergy or lay leaders are available to listen to them, and then do it! Listen to them without judgment. Don’t jump down their throats if they express anger or doubt or loss of faith. Feel comfortable being with them in their confusion and uncertainty instead of trying to “fix” their problems. Share your own anxieties and emotions if appropriate to let them know that it’s permissible to have them.
- Do Pray Together
Apart from encouraging them to attend Church, and to pray privately, pray together as a youth group, OCF chapter, or Church School class. Ask your youth what they would like to pray for, or simply prayer The Jesus Prayer so that Christ might have mercy on us all. Model prayer while you are together so that your youth will do it when they are at home.
- Do Care for Yourself
Be aware of how these events are affecting you. Make sure you are receiving proper spiritual guidance, and have a trusted person to confide in. Model healthy behaviors for your youth instead of exempting yourself from those same behaviors.
- Do Preach the Gospel
Lastly, these kinds of crisis, after the dust has settled, can provide great teachable moments to preach the Gospel of the Crucified Christ. We are the only faith that believes in a God who takes on human suffering Himself in order to open up a path towards eternal life and freedom from suffering. This is a powerful message. Our answer to these traumatic events is that Cross, that One who came to suffer “on behalf of all and for all.” That because of His suffering, all suffering now has meaning as a means for us to attain to Life Eternal in His Kingdom.