“If this is a sampling of the young people in our city, then our future is in good hands. … Amen.” 

On Tuesday, voices from the Thomasville High School Chorus filled the First Presbyterian Church sanctuary with a joyful resonance. They are thirty-eight students strong, and as diverse as our city: black, white, and Latino. As they swayed and sang, they lifted our hearts. The music ranged from the sacred with piano to black gospel with African drums.

It was the last of a noonday Lenten series, and when they had finished, the Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Jennie Hemrick, closed the service with the comment, “If this is a sampling of the young people in our city, then our future is in good hands.” The congregation of mostly retired Thomasville residents gave a spontaneous “Amen.” We left the church with the feeling that things in our city are looking up.

We hear plenty of negative news about our school system, such as high teacher turnover, high-poverty student body, and a system in need of a Superintendent committed to a long tenure. But then we meet the students in moments such as this and realize we have heard only part of the story.

My experience yesterday was much the same as when we hosted the high school football team for pregame meals in our Fellowship Hall. The young men were gentlemen, well-mannered and appreciative. They formed a line at the buffet and waited to eat until one of their peers said a prayer and gave thanks. Maybe they were on their best behavior because the coach rode them hard on the bus ride to the church, or maybe it is that they are good kids.

I don’t deny that our schools have some troubled students; every system does. Neither do I advocate that we should let a child, disadvantaged or otherwise, “off the hook” when they fail to meet community expectations. That said, keep in mind that we have created the world they live in. Most of the problems in our schools are not of the child’s making but result from adult decisions of districting, curriculum, opportunity, and the role models we put before them. If they happen to come from broken families and neighborhoods struggling with crime and addiction, they were born into it. Adulthood is still ahead of them.

Through the years I have been to enough youth presentations that when I arrive I just settle in expecting to see what I usually see, kids doing what they think will please the adults and not necessarily giving themselves to the experience. Yesterday was rare and refreshing. The students sang about the God they loved, with full smiles and some tears of happiness. I also saw a choir director who called forth the good that is in them. Those of us who sat in the pews at First Presbyterian bore witness.

I hope our church can to do the same, to call forth the good that is in our kids. While schools may separate them by city and county, our churches don’t have to. The Arts Academy is providing opportunity, and so have our youth and children’s ministries. Our charge is to nurture* the child who attends our church on Sunday morning, and to nurture the children in our communities as well.

I woke up this morning singing the song we learned in Sunday School as children, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

And so should we.

*The Baptismal Covenant, United Hymnal 39-40