On Friday of their first week of high school – a week in which one of their classmates tragically died – the students gathered for their Grade 9 Blast. They started the morning with a chapel, to which their parents were also invited. Spiritual life director Gord Park told the students that he had prepared a talk about the power of friendship to transform our experiences, but the death of Morgan changed everything.
“We are all shocked,” Park said. “We are numb, confused, maybe angry.”
Some students knew Morgan as a classmate. Some worked with him at a summer camp. Others were just getting to know him, Park said. “We don’t know what we are supposed to do, what we are supposed to say, or even what we are supposed to feel.”
|Grade 9 students and their parents at the opening chapel|
of the 2021 Grade 9 Blast.
The feelings – and the uncertainty – are all normal, Park said, and we may experience them shifting. “We may be crying one moment, and a few minutes later, you may find yourself laughing.” And then you might feel guilty about that. But students don’t need to feel guilt, “because you are going through grief.”
|Spiritual Life Director, Gord Park|
Park told the students that God’s heart for them is to get through the grief, “because I want to tell you a great truth about Morgan: Morgan and Jesus were friends. Morgan and Jesus *are* friends. Park said Morgan’s theme verse was Isaiah 12:2.
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
In the gospel of John, Jesus promises his followers that he is their friend. That confidence in the love and friendship of God can carry us forward, Park said. God is always with us, even when we are hurting. We are not going through this alone. God is an amazing friend, who desires to be our comfort and strength. Take time to connect with God – to read the Bible, to pray, to listen to worship music, to listen for the voice of God.
Park told students that in addition to talking to God, they need to reach out to friends – the ones you already have and the ones you are going to make. Being a new student at Smithville Christian means you can reach out to people who don’t know you. “Be friendly. Be a friend," Park said. "That’s what building good community is all about – being friendly, being a good friend, and putting Jesus in the middle of your friendship.”
We may be missing Morgan and want to honour his memory, but we can do that by reaching out to help each other and allowing God to help us, Park said.
He then invited students who knew Morgan from elementary school and summer camp to pay tribute to their friend, and one by one they came forward to talk about Morgan’s kindness, his jokes, his love for animals, and his ability to make others laugh.
Park said the best way to honour Morgan’s memory is to continue sharing stories and to do what Morgan did when he befriended a new student, making him feel like he belonged in a place when he was really scared. Park also urged students to both laugh and cry. “Take time to take care of yourself, and know you are not alone.”
Park concluded by praying a prayer of blessing on the students. He also prayed for God to turn the pain of losing a classmate into an opportunity for the students to experience comfort by being good friends to each other and building a strong community that cares for each other. Park also prayed for Morgan’s family.
The Grade 9 Blast continued with games, good food, and many opportunities for the students to relax and get to know each other. The school had a pastor and a counsellor on hand to meet one-on-one with students or staff, and students were reminded of the additional supports available to them as the school year gets underway.