A prayer for homeless youth
This past April I chaperoned a group of youth from my church for Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative’s annual event: A Night on the Street. The day before the event brought a half-foot of snow, and a record low of 21 degrees was set before the sun came up on Saturday.
That night, we joined 268 youth and adults from 22 faith communities to sleep in cardboard boxes in Plymouth Congregational Church’s parking lot in downtown Minneapolis. Nathaniel Koch, a high school senior from our group, reflected on his experience, saying, “You don’t realize how cold it actually is until you’re out there. It felt like I could never get completely warm.”
The youth at A Night on the Street raised more than $25,000 for housing specifically for homeless young people, and participants learned about the realities of being homeless from youth who have been there and from street outreach workers who see it every day.
Many prayers joined in a chorus at A Night on the Street, whether silently or aloud.
Just before we set up our boxes for the night, everyone gathered for prayers representing the different traditions participating in the event. One of the prayers offered was Martin Luther’s evening prayer, and it became a prayer for youth experiencing homelessness.
“I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously protected me today,” a teenager from Elk River began to read from her Small Catechism.
Lutherans may know this prayer, but it sounds different standing out in the cold air preparing to sleep on pavement. The words also mean something new after hearing the stories of youth who have experienced homelessness themselves. And we might pray it differently knowing that on any given night there are 2,500 youth facing homelessness in Minnesota.
Luther’s prayer continues: “I ask you to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously protect me tonight. Into your hands I commend myself: my body, my soul, and all that is mine.”
Gracious God, the need for protection of body, soul, and possessions weighed heavily in the stories shared. One person spoke of walking all night and sleeping during the day when he was homeless for fear of being attacked or robbed while he slept. Hear our prayers.
The next line begins: “Let your holy angels be with me…”
Heavenly Parent, I’m not in charge of distributing angels, but it sounds like we need them to accompany youth staying warm on all-night bus lines, to dwell with those squatting in foreclosed houses, and to defend minors from exploitative adults. I give you thanks for the angelic work of organizations who accompany, dwell with, and defend these young people. Hear our prayers.
“… so that the wicked foe may have no power over me.”
Maybe we need a category like wickedness to name what happens to some of these youth. We learned about the reality of human trafficking in Minnesota and how homeless youth are particularly vulnerable. One outreach worker reported that within 36 hours of being homeless most youth are approached by an adult for sex. The foes of drugs and violence are also near. Hear our prayers.
Using your feet
Many prayers joined in a chorus at A Night on the Street, whether silently or aloud. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said that when he marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma his feet were praying. In Minnesota, I believe we were also learning to pray with our shivers, our cold fingers and toes, and our stiff bodies getting up off the ground. Since then, these prayers have overflowed into our home communities of worship.
Our prayers also bubbled over into advocacy when we called our state representatives from the parking lot that night, and the voices of these youth are already impacting our decision makers. At the time of this writing, the Minnesota Legislature is closer than ever to increasing investment in the Homeless Youth Act by several millions of dollars. While this is significant progress, the work of ending homelessness will take many years, many more of our voices, and all of our prayers. Sedrique Ametor, a seventh grader from my church who had never contacted his representatives before that night, says it clearly: “We just can’t let this go on.”
Andrew Twiton is the pastoral intern at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis and a student at Luther Seminary. Portions of this piece originally appeared on StateofFormation.org, where Twiton is a contributing scholar.
Tags: A Night on the Street, Andrew Twiton, Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, Homeless Youth Act, Martin Luther, Nathaniel Koch, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Sedrique Ametor, youth homelessness