My church is in a small farming town with cold winters. There is a family
in my congregation that has taken in a boy who is a high school junior
after his parents kicked him out. Apparently the parents kicked their
son out one night with just a suitcase, despite the dangerously cold
weather. The parents are not willing to reconcile; the school district has
been no help; and since the boy is 18, he is legally an adult the county
can't do anything for him. (He is an adult with no drivers license, no job, and
a year and a half left of school before he gets his H.S. diploma!) The
family has even been criticized by people in the community for interfering
with a family matter by taking the boy in.
I know that taking this boy in has caused stress in the family although it
is not because the boy is a bad kid. Both the husband and wife have
talked to me and said they can't imagine why his parents would kick him
out; he has been nothing but polite and helpful the whole time he has been
with them. But they also aren't sure they can handle having an extra kid
in the house for the next year and a half, yet they are committed to not
putting him back on the streets. He is 18 yet only a junior, so the
sister of the family that has taken the boy in has recommended they
encourage him to drop out of school, get his GED, and enlist in the
The family from my congregation has keep me informed about the situation
but haven't asked me to do anything. This is my first year in ministry
and they surely did not cover this kind of thing in seminary! I have no
idea what I could or should be doing to help. Plus I have been swamped
with getting through my first Lent by myself and all sorts of other parish
projects yet I feel that I should be doing something to help this sad
situation. I would appreciate any insight or suggestions about this case
plus the more general questions about what our role is in cases like this?
Good Samaritan's Pastor
You're right - none of us learned this in seminary either! But most, if not all of us, did learn about identifying and respecting boundaries, and a few of us caution you to be attentive to boundaries in the situation in which you find yourself. And there is more sound advice and even experience to offer to you...read on...
Ann, who blogs at http://seashellseller.
Currently support for the family who took in the young man in the form of a listening ear seems to be all they are asking of you. You might want to find about more on resources from the state and county in these sorts of situations. It is easy to with a pastor's heart to go beyond what is being asked of us. Sounds like you are handling this in a good way and letting the young man and the family take the lead. As to those who criticize --- if they speak to you - listen, but let it go. Do not get triangulated in all of this. Be clear what you can and cannot offer.
The young man will have to make the decisions about GED; it is much easier to finish HS than go that route, and the military -- not a particularly good option IMO from what I have seen of the young men around here returning from military service. It might be right for him if it is his choice.
From Kay who blogs at http://yaksaboutlife.
Well, it sounds like the family is living out their own ministry right now by taking him in. I don't think you necessarily have to do anything unless they need something.
Have you asked what they need? (money for feeding a teenager, furniture, prayers, ?)
As to what they are going to do - the family has to decide whether to let him stay. The young man has to decide if he will drop out and/or join the military. You don't have to decide this for them.
I speak from experience. A few years ago, my son brought home an acquaintance for a meal and shower. Ryan (not his real name, but what we called him) stayed for 14 months. Later they told me Ryan had been living in friends' cars and sleeping on sofas when people would let him.
I did not know I could deal with it - in fact, I was pretty grouchy off and on. But one day at a time we managed, and when he left, it was his own choice.
JLeigh (who blogs here) adds:
Situations like this are so hard precisely because the answers are not always clear (almost never) and everyone in the community has a different opinion. All of this adds to the stress for both the young man's family and the family that has given him a temporary home. I can relate to the situation, not only out of pastoral experience, but because my brother and sister-in-law took in a young man in a similar circumstance. Our mother even helped to pay for the young man to go to school.
First, I would suggest that you remain clear in your boundaries so that you are their pastor and potentially pastor to the young man. You do not need to rescue anybody. You need to care, pray with them, listen, and potentially be with the family as they sort out their role.
Second, you may be in a position to reflect the situation accurately to those in the church/community who are talking about it. Your church family's decision to provide shelter and support for the young man need not be synonymous with interfering or attacking the young man's family. Hopefully they can make it clear that they are simply providing shelter/safe space for the young man to work out his path forward. It may even be that while he is with them, he can work on his relationship with his family. This is, obviously, not always the case.
You may be able to help those who are criticizing to know that they do not need to take sides. Their best role is to care for both the young man and his family -- as the relationships allow.
Hang in there; be steady and present without jeopardizing your pastoral role. Your role is unique. No one else has your role. If the congregation, or members of the congregation choose to offer material support in some way, that is fine. I would just recommend that your care be in the context of pastor of the congregation.
Ceramic Episcopalian http://ceramicepiscopalian.blogspot.com invites us to listen to a higher authority:
I don't have any advice. However, maybe Archbishop Desmond Tutu does. He was on Craig Ferguson's show last week and the section of the show where he talks about Nelson Mandela's inability to see a need and not act on it (about 3/4 of the way into the episode) is really amazing.
Here is the link for the interview: http://tinyurl.com/cbgw29
What needs do you see that are unmet and how can you meet them?
Is there anything you would like to add to this conversation? Do you have comments on Craig Ferguson's interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu? Use the comment box below to add your response.