They’ll know… by Our Love

June 1, 2015

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

This is an article written for the church’s monthly newsletter, the Communique, published in June, 2015. 

In early May the J2A Pilgrims (the 8th & 9th grade Youth Group) headed to Birmingham, Alabama for their Urban Adventure. The weekend’s purpose is to immerse the teens in an unfamiliar urban area and have them find their way to various locations, by foot and mass transit, without smartphones or internet assistance. It’s a weekend intended to prepare them for their Pilgrimage next summer when they’ll be in unfamiliar lands and work together to find their way.

To spice things up, the group is divided into two teams and they compete to get to all the locations and finish first. We added an Amazing Race component, so they had to gather a piece of information at each destination – like the number of birds in a specific statue.   The adults are only there to make sure they don’t get into trouble, but not to help navigate, so the teams must work together and find their way together.

Before the trip, I decided to pick a song that could unite us. I thumbed through an old music book my mom had given me years ago and came across “They Will Know We are Christians by our Love.” It would be easy to teach, and I hoped it would temper the competition somewhat by reminding them that in the midst of a strange place, we’re setting an example of what it is to be Christian. In hindsight, it also connected with each phase of our weekend together – I call that the Holy Spirit!

They learned the song during the outdoor candlelight Eucharist we had after arriving on Friday night. Through worship, we set a tone for the weekend, coming together to partake in the bread and cup of Christ.

The next morning, we gathered before heading out for the day and sang together again:

Group 2We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, 

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,

And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.

Refrain:          

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

IMG_2299The first stop was the 16th Street Baptist Church for a private tour. Here, the teens heard about the 1963 bombing that killed four young girls, one 11 years old, the others 14 years old – the same age as many of the Pilgrims. And, though we’d like to think that racially motivated acts like this are ancient history, the current unrest in many urban settings tells us otherwise. Yet, like the song suggests, our time in this sacred space invited: And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love. The song goes on…

We will work with each other, we will work side by side,

We will work with each other, we will work side by side,

And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

CK 7The next stop was St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church where The Birmingham Community Kitchen invites groups to come and prepare and serve lunch to the homeless. So, after a quick orientation by Carlton, he handed the kitchen over to us and the Pilgrims prepared a full spaghetti lunch, with salad, garlic bread, and homemade chocolate chip cookies for thirty people in the community. The food prep, set up, serving, and clean-up clearly demonstrated that we will work with each other, we will work side by side.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,

And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land.

IMG_2474-crop and compressNext – the Urban Adventure was underway! Primarily on foot, and especially those who hiked up the steep hill to Vulcan Park – one in a cast-boot and another with blistered sandal-clad feet – we would walk with each other, we would walk hand in hand! And over the next several hours, each team used maps and wore smiles as they navigated their way to nine destinations scattered across downtown Birmingham!

The evening ended at Regions Field where we took in a baseball game between the Birmingham Barons and the Tennessee Smokies. And a good time was had by all!

All praise to the Father, from whom all things come,

And all praise to Christ Jesus, his only Son,

And all praise to the Spirit, who makes us one.

Sunday morning began with a final singing of our song, with a new refrain penned by our Pilgrims (what happens in B-ham, stays in B-ham). We attended the 9:00 am service at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, who graciously opened their youth center to us for the weekend. It was Youth Sunday and through the music and messages of their teens, we shared in Praise to the Father, Praise to Christ, and Praise to the Spirit. And WE know THEY are Christians by their love and hospitality!

I’m so thankful to be part of this ministry and I thank the Pilgrims and their Leaders for embarking on this journey, and continuing to show that we are Christians by our love.

we-are-christians-love

 

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