1. Can we communicate the Gospel in school support groups? The short answer if you mean quoting from Scripture and laying out the plan of salvation is NO. The purpose is to help the young person work through grief. Where the adult leader of the support group cannot push religion, other students in the group can share their experience of how God has helped them through their loss. Grieving Teens™ is not a ministry that should stand alone on a campus. Grieving Teens,™ is designed to gain school credibility in meeting real and obvious needs. It is to work in conjunction with Campus Life, Young Life, or FCA or an Campus Christian Clubs based on the Equal Access Law of 1984.
2. How did this ministry get started? Grieving Teens™ as a program was birthed in 1997, when a high school health teacher friend of mine could not cover the section on death and dying due to his parents both recently dying. This allowed me the opportunity to present death and dying in a forty-five minute seminar to all of the health classes. Through those classroom presentations, we identified dozens of students that had unresolved grief issues. In an attempt to meet these individual grief issues, we worked with the administration to start grief groups.
3. How can I communicate the uniqueness of the Christian message in a classroom? Since you cannot preach and you cannot push one religion, the best way is to compare the religious views. How does a Christian Worldview differ from that of the Atheist, Buddhist or Hindu? It differs dramatically in the views of life and death.
4. Does this sort of program require a professional? No, it only requires an educated person who is a Christian and is willing to listen to others and support them in their pain and joy.
5. How will Grieving Teens™ affect our community image? It can radically change the community image of your entire ministry for the school will not see you as a religious group trying to get campus access but they will see you as a community partner concerned about youth and meeting a need that they can not address. School counselor would like to do programs like this but they do not have the time. School counselors are over loaded.
6. If our local Youth Ministry program decides not to start Grieving Teens in our community? As in everything, if a real need is not filled, someone else will fill it. The real question is if the Christian community does not meet this need will we be happy with the Buddhist or secular approach of another group that meets this real need? Concerning, relational ministry there is nothing that will bring you to the core of a person’s being, as fast as the subject or life and death. This is the jugular of relational ministry.
7. What kind of groups are we talking about? A group for support and encouragement consists of 3-12 students that meet with a purpose and an agenda. A grief group is to discuss and hear from each individual their journey in loss (both primary and secondary losses) and to share their emotions and how they are dealing with life in the context of their loss or losses. The purpose is to deal with the emotional, social, physical, and spiritual aspects of grief.
These groups are not closed but open. New people hear about the group by referral from friends, teachers, and counselors. New people change the group. New people often revitalize and refocus the group on their grief and their working on the tasks of grief. Young people are invited to attend as long as it meets their need to work through grief. In the last seven years, I have seen that some need to attend for several weeks, while the vast majority attend for several months, and some have attended for several years. In the group a young person is confronted with reality concerning the way they are dealing with their emotions, social issues, physical affects, and spiritual ramifications.
Along with the purpose and agenda of the group. The support group needs to have a culture of respect. The leader sets the attitude by his or her respect expressed to every attending student. The ground rules at each meeting need to be mentioned. The leader must enforce the rules. Over the years, I have had to ask a student to not attend until they are ready to apologize to the group and recommit to confidentiality or showing proper respect to all students.
8. How much does a program like this cost? Is there training? How would we get started?
Make one group meeting during the school day part of the job description for each of your campus ministers. Have each campus minister train one adult volunteer. In this way it will cost you nothing. Training can be found in your community for free through the Visiting Nurse Association. A copy of the book The Grieving Teen by Helen Fitzgerald can found on Amazon.com for $12.00 or less. You can send your staff person to visit our program at a local High School for experience training.