An Inspired Strategy
His D's became C's and B's. He made up for a year of lost credits in summer school.
He still runs with a crowd that indulges occasionally in alcohol and marijuana. When he's tempted, all he has to do is glance at his wrists, encircled in stretch cotton bands depicting religious images. What would friends like Slack say? Or Mom? Or God?
Strength in Numbers
"A substantial minority of American teens are quite active religiously," says Christian Smith, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "Then there's another large group who's sort of involved. If their dad is visiting and he goes to synagogue, they might go, or if there's a crisis they might pray." The rest of kids, he says, "have no clue what you're talking about."
Smith is in the middle of a four-year project on youth and religion, one of several efforts underway by universities and foundations to better understand this under-researched part of many kids' lives.
One factor contributing to the uptick in youth religiosity, some researchers suspect, is the rise in the number of immigrant families entering the United States. As sisters Amanda and Amy Katru, Christians from India, will tell you, a church like Glen Mar can feel like a little piece of home in a strange land.
The Katrus started going to Glen Mar last fall, a time of discontent for Amy, a slender, dark-haired senior at Long Reach High School in Columbia.
Amy felt like the odd girl out at school. Her parents didn't allow her to date or go to parties or dances. When classmates asked her to join them for weekend slumber parties, she had to say no so often that they stopped asking. When she told them she didn't drink on the weekends, they gave her funny looks. Feelings of isolation and resentment slowly ate away at her spirit. "I was angry at everyone in my family," she says, "my parents, my sister, myself."
Amy and Amanda were invited to join the Bible Thugz, a Sunday night discussion group for high school students. Amy told the group late last fall about her problems at school and at home. Her fellow Thugz nodded in sympathy; they'd been there, done that. "Leave it to God," the group advised. "Keep praying."
She needed to hear other people say that, to know they were trying to follow the same rules of the Bible that she was. "Since New Year's, things have been better," she says.
Other confidence-boosters -- heart-to-heart talks with a close friend, yoga, even reading "Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul" -- might have gotten her to a similar point. But the advice of the Thugz resonated with the principles of earlier generations. That was powerful stuff.
Glen Mar "gives us the confidence that comes with being a part of the Christian community," Amy says. "Here we are not the only ones who are weird."
New friends are what drew Kimbrey Pierce into Glen Mar six years ago and a power saw is what made her stay, sort of.
Kimbrey lives in Elkridge, a community where girlfriends were always moving in, then moving away. Her mother, Kathy Pierce, started taking her to Glen Mar when she was in middle school and there she found a permanent set of pals. Six years later and a senior, she still meets with several of these same people every other Monday night for a girls-only Bible study. "It definitely makes my week better if I'm able to see everyone," she says.
Some girls in the study group don't challenge the Bible or church teachings. Kimbrey, however, is a questioner, and her questions are taken seriously, she says. One discussion she remembers centered on the ordination of gay clergy. Wendy Brubaker, her Bible group sponsor, said gays shouldn't be ordained but Kimbrey argued that "all sins are equal in God's sight." She isn't convinced that homosexuality is a sin, but if it is, she argued, "you can't judge a person just by the sins you see." The church unknowingly ordains ministers who commit abuse and other acts condemned by the Bible. Why should homosexuals be excluded?
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
From left, Erin and Jessica Owens, Andrew Flanigan and Rohan Prabhakar pray before practice for their Christian rock band, Second Chance, in Ellicott City.
(Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)