There’s a passage in the Hebrew Bible (aka The Old Testament to Christians) that says, “Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old, they will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
This scripture was spotlighted countless times in the churches of my upbringing – often during Youth Sundays or children’s programs. A close look at the scripture, however, suggests that it’s not a verse directed at children or young people; it’s a message for those that care for them. This verse urges adults to provide young people with the type of guidance that will help steady the steps of their growth. Fortunately, many churches have tremendous opportunities to call forward the genius of children and youth – especially when it comes to nurturing their interest in environmental stewardship, farming, and food justice.
We’ve done much of this at my church through Orita’s Cross Freedom School. I created Orita’s Cross in 2012 with the goal of creating a program that combined spiritual formation and racial self-esteem. This youth program is open on days when Baltimore City public schools are closed. (Professional Development days, holidays, etc.). Last week, we held our Spring Break program for nearly 50 youth from our community in Baltimore. Throughout the week, we guided many youth through workshops and activities to nurture and grow their interest in being a good steward of the environment.
For example, we had Brother Marvin from the Baltimore Compost Collective come and lead a workshop on composting and vermiculture. Bro. Marvin was impressed that the children knew so much already about composting. When he opened his bin and brought out his red wriggler worms, the children screamed with excitement!
We also had Sister Saché lead an activity that had the children making crowns from flowers. They proudly wore their crowns around Freedom School for the rest of the day.
Finally, we closed out the week by partnering with the Tendea Family for a community clean-up. Chairman Elijah Miles of Tendea Family spoke to the children about the importance of caring for our own community and that picking up trash that litters our neighborhoods is one way that we can do that. As we walked the streets of East Baltimore picking up trash, he led the group of 75 youth in chanting, “Our Job, Our Community! Our People, Our Purpose!”
This is an example of what churches can do in partnership with community organizations to promote environmental stewardship, nurture interest in farming and ignite a passion for food justice in the young people in our congregations and neighborhoods.
Our churches already have Sunday Schools, youth programs, young adult ministries and more. These youth programs many times are already on the church budget (which means they have dedicated funds) and have volunteer staff already in place. This is the perfect time to remix these ministries and redirect their existing funds in such a way that sparks the attention of youth and helps unlock their God-given genius to address some of the most urgent issues of our time.
What other kinds of youth-related programming have you seen at churches to train up young people in the ways of environmental stewardship, farming or food justice? Let’s share ideas and help one another!
Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, III