Photo: Terri Mork Speirs
There is an occasional scream or crash. We adult supervisors try to suppress the racket because our highly talented organist, with full orchestra — basically the opposite of racket — is giving a fine recital in another wing of the church.
Don’t you love a congregation full of life?
You have probably figured out that tonight is my night to chaperone. So instead of snuggling into the comfort my own Saturday night — I sit in this multipurpose room that amplifies the anxious commotion of young people.
I am here to fill the quota of the adult to youth ratio, as required by my congregation’s child safety policies. And I am not just a warm body.
I am background checked, baby.
For a number of years my congregation has adhered to a strict code of child safety policies, which in part dictate that all youth chaperones, Sunday school teachers, drivers, and basically anyone who has any contact with children and youth — all of us must take a child safety course and be background checked. Yes, all of us.
Two summers ago when I ran my congregation’s arts outreach camp for urban kids, I was background checking kindly senior citizens on a daily basis.
Since I was scrambling for volunteers right up until days before the arts camp started — my recurring nightmare included one city park, zero volunteers, a hundred hooligans and me — I had to recruit and background check volunteers at the same time, which is not an inspiring way to engage potential helpers.
I begged retired folks to volunteer, and then I background checked them. I coaxed college students to volunteer, and then I background checked them. I cajoled housewives. Implored teachers. Pleaded with friends. Beseeched strangers.
Then I background checked them all.
Basically, for the entire week prior to the summer arts camp program, every interaction I had was for the purpose of conducting background checks. It took an artful maneuver, if I do say so myself, to work it into the conversation:
Hello, Lovely Mrs. Volunteer. Thank you so much for taking vacation time to join us for summer arts camp, instead of, say, going on vacation. If you don’t mind, not that you need it, I’m sure you don’t, I mean you seem really nice. The fact of the matter is I need to background check you. Immediately. I need your paperwork and I need it now.
Give me 35 bucks and I’ll background check you too. And your grandmother.
Seriously, it was all worth it and no one took it personally. We conducted a lovely arts camp (see photo) for fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders whose home lives were far more complex than I could imagine. The children came and — for one week under the sun in the park — they danced, drummed, sculpted, crocheted and painted.
And they were safe.
In Martin Luther’s explanation of the Fourth Commandment … you know you know it … Honor your father and mother … in his explanation he writes that not only should children respect their parents but also that parents should care for their children. “Therefore do not imagine that the parental office is a matter of your pleasure and whim. It is a strict commandment and injunction of God, who holds you accountable to it” (from the Book of Concord).
As a community of faith, our commitment to the well-being of the children reaches far beyond our own household and out into the world, because children are in a subordinate position, and so, by definition are vulnerable.
In this same document Luther also makes a case against corporal punishment, saying that children should be raised “with kind and agreeable methods. For what a person enforces by means of beatings and blows will come to no good end.”
There are all sorts of ways to care for young people, at home, in church, across town and around the world. Obviously in this dispatch we have but only scratched the surface. Stay tuned, dear Living Lutheran friends because there is so much more to chat about.
But for now I gotta go because I must join the other adult chaperones, all background checked, in supervising this echo chamber full of teenagers who are ringing out my eardrums with blasts of glee.
Note: The summer outreach program evolved into its own non-profit organization, the After School Arts Program, which brings fine arts to children in Des Moines, Iowa, who live in neighborhoods with little access to arts resources.