Developing Contextual Theologies of Child Well-Being

Diary of a Black Church Kid

Rainbow PUSH Coalition 56th Annual International Convention
Faith Leaders Luncheon Keynote, June 21, 2022
South Shore Cultural Center (Chicago, IL)

This message was delivered as the keynote for the Faith Leaders’ Luncheon during the Rainbow Push Coalition’s 56th annual international convention on June 21, 2022, in Chicago, Illinois, at the invitation of the Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., founder of Rainbow/PUSH Coalition (RPC). The convention was themed, Make America Fair and Equal: PUSHing for New Markets in 2022. In the wake of mass shootings of Black patrons of the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, 2022, and young students at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX, on May 24, 2022, the Faith Leaders Luncheon focused on violence as a public health crisis. 

Rainbow/PUSH is a multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international membership organization fighting for social change. RPC was formed in December 1996 through the merger of two organizations he founded earlier, People United to Serve Humanity (PUSH, 1971) and the Rainbow Coalition (1984). RPC works to make the American Dream a reality for all citizens and advocates for peace and justice around the world.

Key tenets of theologies of child well-being employed in the keynote include:

  1. The expression and articulation of God’s will in the voices of children and youth.
  2. Affirmation of children (and their lives) as sources of authority for meaning-making and theological reflection.
  3. The ministry of healing and peace as the work of the Church.

When the Children Lead

Annual Church Leadership Conference
Morning Worship, January 23, 2022
First Missionary Baptist Church (Huntsville, AL)

This message was preached on Sunday, January 23, 2022, at First Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, at the invitation of the Rev. Dr. Don Darius Butler, as the culmination of a weekend conference for congregational leaders. The day prior, Dr. Wilson facilitated virtual workshops with trustees, deacons, and ministry leaders of the church. 

First Missionary Baptist Church has been a community-based presence in the region since the late 1800s when a group of Christians from Aberdeen, Mississippi, moved to Huntsville. Throughout its existence, the church has served as a participant in the cause for freedom and full rights for Black Americans. The church has long understood the importance and impact of Christian education in the early years, instituting programs for the care and education of children. A licensed Child Development Center for children aged 2 ½ through kindergarten was instituted in 1982. In 1992, the CDC was expanded to include an academy, serving children through grade 5 as they develop spiritually, academically, socially, and morally. The church started a Rights of Passage Program for youth in 1998 and a Young Adults Ministry Program in 2000.

Context for church = change management

Key tenets of theologies of child well-being engaged in the sermon include:

  1. Affirmation of the agency children for social change leadership.
  2. Apostolic succession as key the sustainability of movements, like the church.
  3. The expression and articulation of God’s will in the voices of younger generations.

Seen and Not Heard

National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths
Morning Worship, October 17, 2021
The Riverside Church in the City of New York (New York, NY)

This sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson at the historic Riverside Church in New York City on the occasion of the National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths on October 17, 2021. Launched by Children’s Defense Fund in 1992 and observed on the third weekend of October annually, the multi-faith celebration is designed to:

  1. Unite places of worship across the nation and spanning faith traditions to focus attention on the crises facing America’s children, with particular focus on children of color and children in poverty;
  2. Educate members and communities about solutions and actions they can take;
  3. Inspire new responses by connecting individuals and faith communities to the texts, traditions, and teachings that call them to seek justice for children; and
  4. Promote multi-faith responses by lifting up the common concern and shared commitment of all people of faith.

The Riverside Church in the City of New York is an inter-denominational church, influential on the nation’s religious and political landscapes. It is an interdenominational, interracial, international, open, welcoming, and affirming church and congregation. The church seeks to be a community of faith. Its members are united in the worship of God known in Jesus, the Christ, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The mission of the Church is to serve God through word and witness; to treat all human beings as sisters and brothers; and to foster responsible stewardship of all God’s creation.

Key tenets of theologies of child well-being engaged in the sermon include:

  1. The affirmation of children (and their lives) as sources of authority for meaning-making, theological reflection, and discipleship.
  2. The call to advocacy for others as a call to faithful discipleship.
  3. God’s sovereignty to ordain and affirm any human voice and life, which has further implications for the agency of children and youth.

Whose Sanctuary is This Anyway?

Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry
Great Preacher Series, Culminating Sermon and Charge, July 18, 2019
Riggio-Lynch Chapel of Children’s Defense Fund’s Alex Haley Farm (Clinton, Tennessee)

This is a transcription of Rev. Dr. Starsky D. Wilson’s sermon at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. The sermon was part of the Institute’s Great Preacher Series and served as the closing charge for the Institute in July 2019. Hosted annually on the sacred grounds of CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, TN, the Proctor Institute is where faith leaders and activists sing and pray, strategize and struggle, organize and advocate. The event includes worship services, workshops, and direct action in efforts to refresh and renew faith leaders for the hard, hopeful, sacred work of pursuing justice for children.

Key tenets of theologies of child well-being engaged in the sermon include:

  1. The affirmation of children (and their lives) as sources of authority for meaning-making, theological reflection, and discipleship.
  2. The call to advocacy for others as a call to faithful discipleship.
  3. God’s sovereignty to ordain and affirm any human voice and life, which has further application for the agency of children and youth.

Sanctuary: The Black Church and Becoming of Black Youth

Festival of Faiths. November 2021
25th Annual Festival of Faiths
Ghosts & Growing Edges of Black Faith: Intersectional & Interreligious Conversations, November 19, 2021
The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts (Louisville, KY)

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This reflection was delivered at the 25th Annual Festival of Faiths on November 19, 2021. The festival is a nationally acclaimed interfaith event of music, poetry, film, art, and dialogue featuring a diverse lineup of spiritual leaders, teachers, and practitioners. The 2021 Festival examined issues of systemic racism in America and the role of spirituality in healing from the trauma of oppression. Themed Sacred Change: Essential Conversations on Faith and Race, it celebrated the unique beauty, power, and strength of Black faith experiences while facing the profoundly brutal outcomes of genocide, slavery, and “profit at any cost.”

In the hour prior to Dr. Wilson’s plenary, a white teenager, 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, was acquitted on all charges related to his fatal shooting of two people during public protests after a white police officer, Rusten Sheskey, shot and seriously injured Jacob S. Blake, a 29-year-old Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin. 

Key tenet of theologies of child well-being engaged in this reflection is an ecclesiology of church as a safe space for child, adolescent, and youth development.