In June of this year I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Chicago and Milwaukee with high school youth and adult leaders from five of our Conference churches, some urban, some rural.
In Chicago we spent time with The Night Ministry to see the effects of homelessness at a personal level. Beginning in a part of the city that has gentrified over the last few years, we walked the streets imagining ourselves having to live without a home and only $5 to survive a week. Our youth quickly realized how difficult it would be to find a safe place to sleep, take care of hygiene, and eat enough to feel satisfied.
For three nights the youth prepared and served bagged meals to individuals on the streets where the Night Ministry crew set up their mobile healthcare unit. Even with rain, people came to get a meal, sometimes asking for more than one bag. Youth spoke later about the young children they met, the working families who came to get a meal, and the appreciation they received. The realities of homelessness became personal and emotional, especially for some of our rural youth who know of or are in families in economic crisis.
We also visited the Br. David Darst Center where we participated in conversation around systemic oppression. We gained a deeper understanding how the causes and effects of poverty and homelessness are intertwined and interchangeable. We also learned to use our skills and talents in ways to promote and create positive changes,
whether in our own communities or in the greater world.
The second part of our journey took us to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, held in Milwaukee. Youth had a chance to meet others from across the United States, working together on three resolutions dealing with the use of plastic, white supremacy and neo-Nazi rhetoric, and protection for immigrant children and
They participated in some of the plenaries and worship services, hearing speakers, such as Rev. Traci Blackmon and Matthew Desmond, who wrote “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” revolving around homelessness. They learned more about the polity and structure of the UCC and what it really means to be united in such a diverse denomination.
With all the activities and learning opportunities, our youth gained new perspectives about their abilities to be agents of social change. And, they had the chance to be kids. Most of our youth had never ridden a train, subway, or metro bus. Some had never been to Chicago or Milwaukee. None of them had ever been to the not-yet-opened-to-the-public Black Holocaust Museum. All of them gained new friendships.
I encourage the MN Conference and its churches to continue to spiritually and financially support these opportunities for our youth and young adults. It is through these activities that youth are able to grow and learn about themselves and the world around them, and how we, as a church body, can and do make a difference in God’s Kin-dom.
Blessings and Shalom,
Rev. Sheri Nelson
2019 Acting Outdoor Ministry Program Director