Youth Faith Connections for Mental Health

In a previous article I lamented how this pandemic had exhausted me. At one time it had energized, but now I was just done. Not only are we dealing with our own emotions and fatigue, we have congregations to hold up, including youth and children that have gone through a traumatic year.

Milestones missed. Grades at risk. Athletic seasons wiped out. Friendships lost. An entire school year that did not match any that came before it. This is a lot on top of the stress that the tween and teen years can bring all on their own. We check in with our kids and youth, but sometimes we do not have enough time or the right timing to get into the deeper feelings they are having.

In my ministry I struggle with assuming needs. I absolutely want to fill needs, but I don’t ever want to assume what they need. What I see from the outside may not be what they are feeling inside. A few years ago I received a call at 10:30 pm on a weeknight. It was our parish nurse and she was with the family of one of my youth whose father had been released from the hospital to pass away at home from a glioblastoma. They figured it could be a matter of hours and our nurse thought I should be there for my youth, an only child at 14 years old. I went into panic mode. What was I going to say? What was I going to do? This was my first touch with death from one of my youth with a beloved parent and it sadly would not be my last.

I tried to script things in my head, gather resources to take, find prayers to share, but when I showed up at their door, all of those things left me. Everything I had assumed she would need was not needed. Do you know what she ended up needing? Someone to sit in the living room with her as her father laid on a bed in the middle of the room. Someone to watch Iron Man with her as she tried not to pay attention to his inconsistent breathing. Someone to braid her hair while visitors carried their grief in front of her. Someone to play her dad’s favorite Disney Channel songs (he was a devoted dad who loved everything his daughter did) while the family chattered tensely all around her. I did this until 6 am. Later that day he passed away and I came back and just held her as her world crumbled around her. No prayer planned, not weak words of comfort that I thought she might need to hear. No assumptions.

I learned a lot that day. That I can never assume what youth need. Even from youth to youth. As this has happened to other youth over the years, what they have needed has been different. 


As a parent, my own kids’ needs are different and I make mistakes constantly. I assume they want me to fix things when all they want me to do is listen. 

This past January I was asked to co-chair a group of youth in the Chapel Hill/Durham area of North Carolina to create awareness and events around mental health issues for youth in local faith communities. We have 5 on our team right now and they have spent the last few months planning an event taking place over Zoom Sunday, May 2nd. They told us what they needed and the adult chairs worked to help them realize their vision. They wanted to create a safe, anonymous space to have questions answered by experts so parents and youth could hear them. They hope parents will find it helpful to assist their youth and youth hope to learn how to help themselves and their friends.

It is a first step for this group that is new but passionate about mental health and their fellow youth. It has been wonderful for me to step back and listen to what they need and help them make it a reality.

You are all welcome to join our event by registering here. Share with your families and if you have youth that are passionate about mental health to possibly join our group. We are growing and would love new voices.

Miller YFC May 2 Event Flyer-5

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Karen Miller is Director of Children and Youth Ministries at Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, NC and a Member of the Hope4CE Steering Committee

 

Is Everything Fine?

Everything’s fine…

That is what I keep telling myself. The truth is that it is not.

I have no new ideas.

Asian woman with post-it notes all over her and her computer

 

I see your ideas on Facebook and hear them in Zoom meetings. I do. They’re great. I read them and feel like I am in 8th grade again and am jealous of Kristin’s Guess Jeans. I want a triangle on my bum, but my mom says I have to pay for half and I am lazy. I am jealous of the ideas, but am so burnt out right now.

 

Am I down on myself? For sure, but after meeting with the Hope4CE Steering Committee I know that I am not alone. We are all feeling it. Maybe you can’t pack one more bag, do one more porch drop off, edit one more video, look at one more poorly attended Zoom meeting. I am here to tell you that it is ok.

 

 

Last March when this all started we were in a frenzy. Don’t roll your eyes but I actually found it exciting. After 16 years of doing Christian Education I felt like I had a new job. Creativity from colleagues around the world abounded. We rallied together to create new ways to connect with our congregations and it was truly something special. I felt motivated to put everything out there knowing that our congregants were struggling. The first couple months of shut-down I took screen shots of ideas others had in Facebook groups. I sat down one day to write down all of the ideas so I could delete the pictures and it took up two pieces of notebook paper, front and back. I did most of them and with much success. I did the Lent bags, Advent wreath bags, back to school bags, porch drop-offs were endless, parking lot events, children’s sermons featuring my diva dog that I painstakingly edit, the virtual Christmas Pageant, made trivia games weekly…the list goes on and on. It felt life giving at first. Here I was creating new things instead of just plugging in things: this VBS curriculum, this Sunday school curriculum, this youth group game. We were able to re-create our jobs. It was thrilling!

 

Now, not so much. I am excited for you and all your good ideas. I support you, but I am done. Not done with my job. I deeply love what I do and will continue to give my church 100%, but I am giving myself a break from ideas. I am not packing Lent bags, I don’t even know what I am doing yet and I am ok with that. I do know that I will check in with my families, stay connected with my youth, let them all know that they are loved and are being prayed for. What I won’t do is add to the burnout I am already experiencing.

 

 

When I started in education, congregants would invited me to coffee or lunch. I thought “how cool!”, they want to be friends. No. You work at a church, you are therefore a professional listener. People want to share with you. They want you to listen and tell them that all will be well. No one tells you that in ministry that you will also be a therapist when you didn’t go to Seminary and kind of fell into your call. We have carried the weight of so many over the years. We singlehandedly re-created our entire jobs within days. We have held them up DURING A PANDEMIC! I will repeat that: A FREAKING PANDEMIC! Not to mention the unrest and chaos that surrounded us at the same time. We did this. We did it together. Cut yourself some slack. Take something off of your work plate and take care of you. I know for a fact that most of you have not been practicing self-care. And if your self care has looked like mine, it has involved a wine glass and there are probably better ways.

Personally I will still involve a wine glass in moderation of course. I will listen to myself and pull back even though I am still chasing those Guess Jeans. I might even have an idea or two that I will post and you will say “no thanks, I don’t need those jeans the pair I have are fine.” You all and your ideas got me through this and will continue to inspire me, but I will also take care of me and you take care of you. Everything is not fine and that is ok.

 

Karen Miller is Director of Children and Youth Ministries at Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, NC and a Member of the Hope4CE Steering Committee

 

Family Trivia Night

Zoom fatigue anyone? Yeah, me too. I realized it finally when I had a youth meeting and only my kids showed up because I made them. We are forgetting time and what used to be a normal schedule and routine. In many ways I am ok with this, except it is 11 am here on a “school day” in North Carolina and I have yet to see a child emerge from their bedroom.

My children and youth families I am sure are feeling the same. We have been picking back up with attendance to meetings now that school has gotten organized, but one thing that has never dropped off is our family trivia night. Every Friday at 7, I lock myself in a room in my house so my husband and kids can participate while I facilitate. Our church families log on to a Zoom meeting and talk a little trash while I play a little Yacht Rock to get them pumped up for competition.

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DIY Vacation Bible School

I know we are all in a bit of panic mode when it comes to our summer plans. We have no idea what the future holds with our large group gatherings and everything is confusing with some areas opening back up and some locking down further. I know VBS has been keeping me up at night wondering when and if. One thing I will not worry about is how.

A few years back I worked at a church that was in an area of about 5 other churches. I would see their VBS signs pop up and realize that we were all doing the same package and of course mine was the one later in the summer when all the other kids had attended other churches earlier. Who wants a repeat? I sat down with my committee to come up with a way to create a unique VBS that focused on the areas that our church was passionate about without losing our minds.

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