Everyone is suffering under the duration of the ongoing pandemic as it extends into the coming new year, and, according to the COVID-19 Parental Resources Kit from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), young people in their teens are particularly at risk from numerous direct and indirect pandemic-related effects, beyond getting sick, that can put their emotional and mental well-being at risk.
Those make for a long but now familiar litany: Disrupted routines, social isolation, online screen time out of balance with in-person interactions, restricted physical activities, increased family hardships and stress, unequal access to resources and technology.
For adolescents, the depression, anxiety, loss and grief that can result are compounded by not being able to experience the usual rites of passage and coming-of-age celebrations in traditional ways.
You only get one senior high school year, after all.
The CDC notes that trauma experienced at this developmental stage can have long-term consequences.
“What I hear from teenagers in my life is that, because they are not able to gather in person and have the regular, tangible supports they would normally have, they’re processing the trauma of this time, if they can, online. And while they’re much more adept and comfortable with that than I am, there are limits to what you can do online,” the Very Rev. Amy McCreath, the dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston, said in an interview via Zoom.
“I do think that the pandemic and being in their rooms all the time, for some, is really raising questions about meaning, and some are in more of a searching mode than they might have been,” she said.
A good time, then, for a dose of Gospel good news, coming in the form of “Arise, Shine,” a five-week sermon series for the season after Epiphany aimed at helping teenagers see Christ in themselves and the world during this challenging time.
The series is being offered by the Adolescent Mental Health Network, a group within the diocese of pastors and professionals with expertise and awareness of the prevalence of adolescent mental health issues, and a commitment to finding ways to equip church communities to support young people.
“The thing that we hear most from high school students is: ‘We want more sermons!’” the Rev. Christopher Whiteman said in the Zoom interview with fellow network member Amy McCreath.
Whiteman was joking, but only partly. As a former Groton School chaplain, he’s had direct experience with what he described as the “power of the preaching relationship” and the transformative effect that the right word heard at the right time can have in a young person's life.
“It’s a beautiful way to reach people, and so here’s a moment that we can take to really speak to the adolescents in our midst,” Whiteman, now the assistant rector at Trinity Church in Concord, said.
“Adolescence is a tough time, and if we’re going to talk about mental health around adolescence, we should be talking about it in the church,” he said.
While a plethora of good resources is readily available online (including this list of mental health help lines), the church, McCreath said, is positioned to offer something unique.
“We’ve got Jesus! We’ve got the Gospel, which is that death is not the final word, that pandemic is not the final word, that depression is not the final word—it’s not your identity—and that you are part of a larger community where your gifts and skills and beauty are needed.
“Even when we feel lonely, we’re part of a body of people that are all one and connected to God. What a beautiful message to share and offer to young people,” McCreath said.
The “Arise, Shine” sermon series takes its title from Isaiah 60:1: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
A roster of preachers will self-record sermon videos, to be posted weekly for congregations to use in their online worship offerings on Sundays from Jan. 17 through Feb. 14. Links will be available on this webpage hosted by the diocesan Office of Youth Ministry.
The network hopes the sermon videos will also be useful to other groups, at other times and in other ways, including retreats, Christian formation classes, youth groups and campus ministries.
“The most important thing is getting the message out to young people that we see you, we love you, we care about you, and if this series helps to make that message a little more real, then for me its purpose is served,” Whiteman said.
--Tracy J. Sukraw
Updated 12/17/20 to reflect sponsoring group's revised title.
"Arise, Shine": A Sermon Series for Adolescents
The season after Epiphany focuses us on how Christ is made manifest in the world and in our lives. This five-week series of sermons seeks to help teenagers see Christ in themselves and the world at a time when overlapping pandemics make that more challenging. Offered by the Adolescent Mental Health Network in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Links to sermon videos will be available weekly via www.diomassyouth.org/arise-shine-preaching-series.
Roster of preachers:
- Jan. 17: The Rev. Terry Pannell, Rector, Church of St. Mary of the Harbor, Provincetown
- Jan. 24: The Rev. Cara Rockhill, Assistant Rector, Wyman Memorial Church of St. Andrew, Marblehead
- Jan. 31: The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, University Chaplain for Episcopal Ministry, Boston University
- Feb. 7: The Very Rev. Amy McCreath, Dean, Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston
- Feb. 14: The Rev. Christopher Whiteman, Assistant Rector, Trinity Church, Concord
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”