I have been spending lots of time at church during the week. I took to looking askance at two particular neighborhood teens who participate in a number of our programs — garden club, after-school, youth group — because they seem to manage always to be in the wrong place (an unauthorized place) at the wrong time, and Shontay in particular wears this mischievous grin, as if she’s looking for trouble.
One Sunday in mid-November, my attitude toward them changed completely.
This Sunday, immediately before the Prayer of the Church, Avis’s grandson happened to run down the aisle and bump into the Paschal candle. It fell over and fell apart.
A few of us ran over and started putting it back together. She told the child loudly, “You broke it.” I wouldn’t have done that, but she’s not me; I don’t know if she could have done differently.
When we finished, it was good as new. As usual at that point in the service, I excused myself to smoke.
Outside, I pondered: It takes a village to raise a child.
So, I’m out there on smoke break, and here comes one of those mischievous girls — L’Bria, I think; the other one is Shontay — with four little ones in tow. I am not happy to see them. They knock on the fellowship hall door, and Kamera (about age 8) answers and says, “They’re having church upstairs.” The big girl answers, “That’s where we’re going.” They go in, and I assume they’re going downstairs to make a mess.
When I got upstairs, they were sitting in my pew. The little ones were quiet and completely still. At the Exchange of the Peace, Shontay came over to tell L’Bria hello. I’d not known Shontay was present. She carried a baby, feeding it from a baby bottle.
It came to me: these kids come from a tough situation. They’ve had adult responsibilities inappropriately imposed on them while they’re still children. They have to watch the little ones because their own mothers won’t. They can’t play, because Mama wants to play instead. “Boyfriend’s coming over, and we’re gonna get drunk and high and play. Y’all get out. I never wanted you anyway.”
Very likely, Mama herself never had a chance to be a child. Maya Angelou didn’t.  Traci Lords didn’t. The girl whose mother took her to a hotel so her boyfriend could rape her, didn’t. How many of the adults running around our neighborhood are still babies because they never had a chance to be children? Recall that a hostile context stunts emotional growth.
These teens come to church because, first of all, it’s safe. In this context, even on a Sunday morning, personal safety — physical and emotional — is at a premium. And it’s extremely hard to grow up if one has never known peace of mind.
One must be a child before one can be an adult.
This informs my perspective on arrested development.
We must create a village where these children can grow up.
That will be the Kingdom in our midst.
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From Wikipedia: “At the age of eight, while living with her mother, Angelou was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, a man named Freeman. She told her brother, who told the rest of their family. Freeman was found guilty but was jailed for only one day. Four days after his release, he was murdered, probably by Angelou’s uncles.”
Traci Lords was raped at age 10 by a 16-year old friend. Her mother’s boyfriend, Roger Hayes, a cocaine dealer, later molested her. At age 14, she became pregnant by her high school boyfriend. Hayes helped her obtain an abortion; and, later, when she chose to enroll in the porn industry, posed as her stepfather. When a high school classmate recognized her in Velvet (age 15), she quit school. She was the Penthouse Pet of the Month in September 1984 (age 16).