Bernice Ayer Middle School in San Clemente, Calif., 1999. One kid, a small, wiry seventh grader wearing a surf T-shirt and shorts. His arms outstretched, almost hugging the flagpole, he is praying. School doesn't start for another hour and 40 minutes. It is just him, the flagpole and God.
What was he praying about? What motivated this young man with no peers around him to stand alone at the pole and pray?
Two years ago, Suzanne, a 17-year-old home schooler from Orange County, asked me if I would be willing to stand at the flagpole at the Department of Education building with some of her home-school group to pray with them and give a brief talk. "If you talk for over ten minutes the kids will get bored," she informed me. I smiled. Suzanne was in charge and she had it programmed to the hilt.
|"Just for a moment, the flagpole had become holy ground."|
On the day in question, most of the students had a scripture to read. It was just them and me, though a few supportive moms and several nervous employees of the Department of Education were watching from a distance. They weren't sure what this was all about. Some kind of protest against no more prayer at football games?
We started with a scratchy cassette recording of a patriotic song and then one of the kids read the powerful words from II Chronicles: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." Suzanne began our time of prayer. Most of the students prayed. Some were long winded, some prayed specifically for a need in their life. The dominant themes were prayers of thanksgiving for the country and freedom to pray at the flagpole. The flagpole brought out their patriotic side. In light of the increased violence on school campuses, they all petitioned God for safety in schools. Most prayed for a family member or a friend who "needed God."
By the end of the time of prayer, all the mothers and even a few Christian employees of the Department of Education had come much closer around the pole, inspired by the spiritual fervor. The kids were encouraged to take a stand for God. I spoke to a very receptive little audience but they really didn't need my part of the program. The students had done their part.
When we finished our final prayer, the kids stood in groups talking about their classes and what they were going to do on Friday night. We adults, who had been much less comfortable around the flagpole, spoke in hushed tones. Somehow, observing those kids pray inspired us to believe just for a moment that the flagpole had become holy ground.
The millions of kids who will stand around flagpoles in most of the 56,000 junior high and senior high schools in America praying Wednesday morning will come for many reasons. Some will come in defiant protest because the courts have "disallowed prayer at football games, but they can't stop us at the flagpole," Tanya, age 16, told me a few days ago. Eric Wakeling, the junior-high youth pastor at my church, announced he would be there with "mostly chocolate" doughnuts. His presence and his doughnuts brought enthusiastic applause at the See You at the Pole pre-rally.
My daughter was one of the kids who came because it was an "event" and her Christian friends were there. Her beloved youth worker was an encouragement to all the kids who showed up early to pray. There is negative peer pressure on campus, but this event just might be about positive peer influence. Yes, some of the adolescents stood by the pole and giggled through the prayers while others fervently got on their knees, recited scriptures and prayed for renewal and revival. See You at the Pole is part of the new and very positive movement of young people leaning toward a deeper, stronger faith--a radical faith.
When it comes to spirituality, there are two types of millennial students in America, on parallel tracks. One group was not at See You at the Pole and probably won't even know it happened at their school. These students haven't visited any kind of church, parish or synagogue in their life except for the occasional wedding or funeral. They don't know the meaning of Easter or Christmas and have barely even heard of the Ten Commandments. Their parents probably left the church in the '70s, and these kids are products of a previous generation's lack of interest in things spiritual.
The See You at the Pole kids are seeking a deeper spirituality than a previous generation. These are the kids who don't want to play at church anymore. They seek a radical commitment. Worship is of primary importance. They are fueling the upswing in serving through hands-on mission experience, and these same kids tell us that they will stand for God at the flagpole, in the classroom, at home, and on the streets. These same kids are leaving the flagpoles to join campus Bible studies and serve at soup kitchens. The millennials are here to stay. They are bringing passion back to faith, they are disturbing our comfort level, and they may just be the best thing that has happened to the church since a few fisherman, a prostitute, and a handful of others followed the Lord to the cross a few thousand years ago.