Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | February 3, 2023

Congregation Update: Called to Help Our Youth Find Their Light

Blog|Steph McNally

Dear friends,

“People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” Matthew 5:15

Is there a young person in your life who has lost their “light”? If so, you are not alone. The US is experiencing a “devastating” youth mental health crisis. 

During a discussion at The Vine last week on the Beatitudes, a powerful observation was made that many young people are depressed, or “poor in spirit.” The pandemic and other crises have led to our youth experiencing mental health challenges we don’t fully understand but to which we want to respond. 

The recent Pew Research survey Parenting in America Today reports the number one concern parents of children under 18 have for their child is that they will struggle with anxiety or depression. Mental health challenges are the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in youth aged 12 to 18. Suicide is the second highest cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds. 

The Pew survey found that only a third of parents felt it was very important for their children to share their religious beliefs. Religious institutions are no longer widely seen as places that can support and nurture the young. We are called to remove our lights from under the metaphorical bushel and place them on lampstands. We can do more to serve our youth. 

Many resources exist that can help us learn how to support young people in crisis. The excellent training I attended last fall in Youth Mental Health First Aid, offered by Jewish Learning Works and hosted by Congregation Sherith Israel, focused on how we can support youth in faith-based settings. There were challenging moments in the training, such as role-plays where we practiced strategies for asking a young person if they were thinking of harming themselves. I had a strong sense that God was present in the room with us, and that we were engaged in sacred work that would help us support our beloved young people and save lives.  

We are offering Youth Mental Health First Aid training on March 21 and 28, from 6 to 9 pm, for interested adults in our congregation. Please email me to register your interest.

Our Dean, the Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young, spoke powerfully at our Annual Meeting last Sunday about the core mission of Grace Cathedral as a place of welcome for all, and how essential this is for those experiencing mental health challenges. The Dean suggested reports of declining church attendance should not detract from the truth that human beings are spiritual beings, and we are all longing for the transcendent. We are called to let this transcendent light shine for our young. We also need to understand how our young people experience the world, what burns in their hearts and minds and sometimes renders them “poor in spirit”. Through such a dialogue, we can make our community even more welcoming, and our earthly spiritual home more reflective of the one we joyously await in Heaven.

Jesus said of the poor in spirit that the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. It is possible that our young can bring us closer to this kingdom, help us glimpse, and bring about on the earth, a place where all know peace and unconditional love. 

With gratitude,

Steph McNally 
Associate for Children, Youth, and Family Ministry 

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