There were about a dozen students helping at the event, running errands back to the kitchen, hauling ice, assisting with clean up. At some point they seemed to be at loose ends so I invited them back to the kitchen for some warm bread and homemade apple butter. I don't think I knew but two of them by name, but they all trooped after me through the dark school hallway and student refectory, and before long we were all gathered around the counter in the kitchen. I cut a loaf into thick slices and passed them all around, and they politely took turns with the butter knife. There were some initial oohs and aahs, and then periods of silence punctuated by the occasional "Mmmmm"---the sound that every chef loves to hear, when people would rather enjoy your food than talk. A few students took seconds, three more straggled in late and finished off the loaf, and after some discussion of when they might return for Fr. Dom's legendary pizza, they went back out to finish their service at the event.
I often hear people complain about teenagers, how they are disrespectful or delinquent, how they have no manners and don't appreciate what they have. I beg to differ. These adolescents were respectful of me and each other, appreciative of what was offered them, and peppered their conversation with a lot of please and thank you. Nobody pushed to the front of the line, no-one got out a cell phone to send a text, not one of them said anything you couldn't quote in church. Do we have special kids at Saint Bede? Probably. I certainly don't have the kind of behavioral issues in the classroom that we hear rumors about in other local schools. But I've had similar experiences in public schools and big city youth groups and even in a maximum security prison for teens. Create a space where teens can feel valued and have a sense of belonging, and they usually respond.
I think we created that kind of space last night in the abbey kitchen: teens breaking bread together as companions on the journey toward maturity, forging friendships, making memories. "Bread is love made visible," says Kahlil Gibrain's prophet. What a blessing for me to be able to share God's love for his children in the form of a slice of warm bread! I hope that they tell their friends about our simple pleasures together, so we can widen that circle of love and bring everybody to the table of acceptance and fellowship.