Jay Campbell, Director of Youth/Young Adult Ministries at Clinton UMC in Clinton, NJ shares this idea for challenging youth to see the deep needs of the world through a contemplative experience exploring documentary photographs. For those of us who might think that teens can't handle silence or contemplation, Jay offers a window into just what can happen when you provide the right atmosphere:
We moved into the sanctuary with only a few dim lights on and instrumental music playing in the back ground that invited us into a holy space. Throughout the sanctuary we placed 20 pictures (last time they were chosen from Buzz Feed’s Most Powerful Pictures from 2012 and 2013). We invited the students to take as much time as needed to explore the humanity in each picture and to write their response on the paper.
I was blown away by what the youth wrote. They wrestled with questions of theodicy, saw hope and perseverance, saw the call of the church to stand for those oppressed, wrestled with the reality of a broken and painful world, as well as seeing the hope and possibility of a new reality. The first time we did this our middle school students stayed in the sanctuary for almost an hour, after we finished, to continue praying and expressing their honest thoughts and emotions. When everyone was finished, we stayed in the sanctuary to have honest discussion about our reactions. I will admit that it has not always stirred up joyful responses, but we journey together to see the reality that many face everyday in this world and end with the hope of God’s reign coming and our call to be apart of its in-breaking here and now. The Spirit of God has worked powerfully in these spaces.
Some photos are heartbreaking, others inspiring. Each one stirs emotion and I challenged my youth to ask the questions: Knowing each photo represents a person, a story, a struggle (most often representing the reality of many people): Where is God in this picture? How is God at work? Where is God calling you and us to act and respond?
Jay has been in ministry for a little over 5 1/2 years serving in roles of youth ministry and internships that include the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society working on the issue of combating human trafficking. In May 2014, he will graduate from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC with his Masters of Divinity. He is currently serving as Director of Youth/Young Adult Ministries and Missional Witness at Clinton United Methodist Church in New Jersey. Jay loves to cheer on the Tennessee Volunteers, and proudly loves to watch professional wrestling (what is often called the fake kind) for his guilty pleasure.
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