How to Engage Teens in Racial Reconciliation

CHICAGO, IL (September 30, 2016) A recent Google Hangout on “Helping Teenagers Engage in Racial Reconciliation” co-sponsored by the Companion and Youth Specialties encouraged youth workers to be courageous in addressing the issue and offered specific ideas on how to approach the topic in a variety of settings.

The multiethnic panel of Covenant youth pastors represented churches from urban, suburban, and rural contexts, and also included Ginny Olson, ECC Northwest Conference director of youth ministry and acting director of Youth Specialties; as well as Tasha Morrison, founder of Be the Bridge, a ministry that seeks to connect existing organizations and churches to promote racial reconciliation.

Panelists acknowledged that it can be easy to avoid the conversation out of fear of offending people in the church or because the youth pastor feels like they don’t have all the answers. Convincing people that racial reconciliation is an important issue can be especially difficult in communities where there are few minorities or where no major incidents have occurred. But Steve Wong, associate pastor of River Life Covenant Church in Sacramento, California, said it is an important element of our ongoing conversations about the nature of the kingdom of God.

Efrain Alicea, pastor of Elements Covenant Church in Bronx, New York, highlighted how his congregation had invited largely white churches to participate in immersion experiences that have been helpful. Suburban churches came to learn, as well as help do projects around his multiethnic congregation. He noted that relationships can continue through social media dialogue and additional activities together.

Racial incidents can occur anywhere. Jeremy Elseth, youth pastor at the Evangelical Covenant Church in Lindsborg, Kansas, said their community of 3,400 is addressing a racist vandalism event when messages including “Make Lindsborg White Again” and outlines of dead bodies were drawn on sidewalks at Bethany College, a small Lutheran school there. The messages were directed at the school’s president who has seven children, including two adopted biracial children, and to the students of color at the school.

steve-wong-photoThe Lindsborg City Council subsequently approved a resolution supporting and promoting diversity and inclusiveness in Lindsborg, a town that is also known as Little Sweden and is roughly 95 percent white.

Elseth said it can be difficult to discuss race in a community where there is so little diversity, but the church is looking to make connections with people beyond the town. The pastor of a black church from a neighboring city came and spoke to the church’s youth group and more interactions are planned. The topic also will be addressed through sermons and discussions.

A youth mission trip several years ago to a Covenant church in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, a community that is 98 percent black and formed by freed slaves, was an “eye opening experience” for the teens, Elseth said afterward.

Morrison said forming relationships with churches of different ethnic groups is critical to helping mono-ethnic churches move forward. She added, “Don’t wait for the next thing to happen.”

Youth leaders also were encouraged to follow on social media people who are addressing racial injustice. The topic will be one of many addressed at the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention November 17-20.

The organization will hold its first-ever intentional cross-racial track throughout the convention. The track will include:

– An intensive seminar on Thursday, November 17, in which participants will learn not only about race and justice issues but also will explore their own role as reconcilers for their students, churches, and communities.

– A city excursion to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

– A one- to two-hour hour guided group discussion each day.

– A final celebration gathering on Sunday morning.

Participants must reserve a spot for the track.

To find out more about youth ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church click here.



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