Last week I was at a conference in Palm Springs for a couple of days. It’s called the BOOST Conference, and it’s for those who serve kids in out of school time programs (before & after school stuff). As someone who has been a volunteer youth worker for most of the past 20 years, I love this environment. It’s fun, exciting, smart, dedicated and a wonderful group of “all-in” people. I got to hear some of the talk by Sir Ken Robinson about the need for creativity in education, a little from Milton Chen of Edutopia, as well as get to hang out with some of the most brilliant and engaging people in education and youth services. It was wonderful.
One of the booths in the exhibit hall area was for The Trevor Project, a non-profit dedicated to crisis intervention and suicide prevention in the LGBT community, particularly among youth and young adults. I’d heard of The Trevor Project via social media, where they do an excellent job of networking. And of course having some prominent supporters like Neil Patrick Harris and Dustin Lance Black doesn’t hurt, but I discovered their involvement later on.
I struck up a conversation with the staff person at the table, asking more about his work as a trainer and presenter that worked with schools, community organizations, etc. I asked him, “do you ever work with any faith-based groups to provide resources or address the topic?”
“We work with anyone who wants us to come be with them.”
“I get that,” I said, “but I’m someone who is in faith circles a lot, and I’m curious about that community in particular, since so many LGBT youth come from religious households that may not be safe places for them.”
“Well, I’ve only been with the organization for a few months, so I can’t speak to the long term track record, but I’ve never been asked to do a presentation for a religious group.”
We continued talking, and I explained that the UCC as well as several other mainline groups are active in advocating for and serving with LGBT communities, and that there may be avenues available for The Trevor Project to provide some insight and education about helping LGBT youth and young adults to find safe places free of condemnation. He thanked me and we agreed to be in touch in the days ahead.
As I left I wondered just how actively we are as churches in not just providing safe places for sisters and brothers in crisis, but in letting our communities know that we are safe places? Many of our churches are decent at that, and I’m not suggesting a systematic failure. But I recall so many conversations with my progressive UCC family where they encountered someone who had just discovered a Christian community that was active in works of justice as an integral part of their faith life. And often the response is, “well we’ve been doing that for years.” A few months ago in that scenario, the person new to this discovery shot back at a group, “well I never knew you existed, so you may want to step up your efforts a bit more.” Ouch! Again!
But it was a good “ouch!” It reminded me that I too often stand content with the knowledge that “my” community is, in theory, a place that espouses values that serve and comfort the disenfranchised, the left out and the left back. But being a place for those fellow travelers and seeking those folks out to let them know that they aren’t alone are two very different things. It caused me to never rest on the virtual laurels of thought and assent when those things are meaningless without the active implementation of those ideals. It’s the difference between the theoretical and the practical.
We often criticize the practical applications of others as not being in line with our theory when we haven’t a leg to stand on when it comes to practice.
So thanks to The Trevor Project for the reminder that the work is never done, and we are to seek out the lost and left out and injured with an abandon that inspired a shepherd to leave 99 sheep to find the one that was lost. A shepherd that didn’t cater to the demands of the contented masses, but rather sought out the deep needs of the left out.