Turning to the book of 1 Samuel, the Rev. Daylan Woodall told the children a story of a 6-foot-9-inch warrior covered in bronze armor and carrying a javelin. His name was Goliath.
“This guy is a pretty big deal. He is one scary dude. He is yelling out threats to David and to the Israelites. Goliath was being a ...,” Woodall said, pausing.
“A bully,” the children responded.
In an effort to address the challenges facing children and parents, the Decatur Fellowship of Historic Black Churches held a Back to School Bible Conference this week at First Missionary Baptist Church.
During the free three-day conference, the youth learned how to respond to bullying, discouragement and temptation. The heard the story of David and Goliath and how Saul, a former bully, changed his ways and became Paul.
“We want to begin to do the work of telling our kids that we know they are going to deal with challenges, we know they are going to deal with discouragement and we know that bullying in all its forms and incarnations are on the rise,” said Woodall, pastor of First Missionary Baptist. “We want them to know there is a Biblical response, a healthy response and a response that won’t make them feel alienated.”
In the adult sessions, parents, grandparents and guardians learned about the challenges facing modern-day children. The gap between what adults experienced as children in school differs greatly from the experiences their sons and daughters are having, Woodall said, pointing to the rise of social media, of Twitch, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.
“You and your kids are going to live two completely different existences. The challenges facing a child now are uniquely and distinctly different than just 10 years ago. We’re in a paradoxical situation. The Bible hasn’t changed and God hasn’t changed, but the world around us has,” Woodall said. “How do we reconcile those two things? How do we become better parents, more sensitive and listen better? These are questions we are all facing.”
The answer to those questions involves the whole community, said Macedonia Cumberland Presbyterian Church’s pastor Lynn Herring, who delivered Tuesday’s message.
“I look at our community and think about all the gifts and talents we have that are untapped and it makes me cry,” Herring said. “Yes, it still takes a village to raise a child. Decatur will change when we become proactive rather than reactive. When I hurt when it hits your house and when you hurt when it hits my house, that is when our community will happen.”
Decatur City Schools board member Michele Gray King, therapist Adrienne Ward and City Councilman Billy Jackson reiterated Herring’s call for community involvement. They encouraged guardians to spend time with their children, attend parent-teacher conferences and eat lunch with their child at school.
“If your kid likes to play basketball, you go outside and play with them. It doesn’t matter if you can hit the backboard or not,” Ward said. “A child measures love by time. Kids want to feel important and that you have time for them. A child measures love by time.”
Woodall and First Missionary Baptist partnered with Herring and Macedonia Cumberland Presbyterian Church, pastors Edward and Claudette Owens of Shiloh Missionary Baptist and Rev. Roderick Stallworth of Kings Memorial United Methodist to organize the conference. The pastors hope the conference serves as a springboard to future programming created by Decatur’s historic black churches and as a pathway to a stronger and tighter community.
“Community is nothing less than all of us doing what we are supposed to do,” Woodall said. “We all share the conviction that the church is the cornerstone and the foundation of our community. What that means is we have to do the work of connecting the church with the context around the church. It’s not enough for us to believe the church is the foundation and not do the work of building the bridge to the community.”
This week, that bridge building took the form of addressing the needs and concerns surrounding the schools. In the church’s basement, Woodall talked with the children about bullying at school — about the name-calling, isolation and exclusion.
“In the course of our lives we will encounter people who are bullies. It is something that happens to one out of three people. It causes people to feel helpless and alone. We have to treat people like we want to be treated,” Woodall said.
Along with Woodall and Herring, guest speakers included Edward and Claudette Owens, Rev. Michael Jefferson, Austin High principal Melissa Scott and Decatur High principal Johnny Berry.