This past Wednesday, Christian students from across the nation gathered at middle schools and high schools and prayed. This was part of a project that has been going on since 1990 and brings Christian students together on their campuses and encourages them to pray: See You At the Pole (SYATP).
I’m pretty sure while I was in high school, I was present at each every SYATP event we had – and I know I even had some t-shirts. I thought it was a great event – powerful to pray for my friends, my school, my community. I also remember thinking at that time, “Yah — they can’t keep prayer out of schools! Look at us!”
Fast forward 10 years and I am sitting in a circle of a group of youth ministry folk in Livermore, CA. It was my first time meeting this group, and they were all very inviting and welcoming of me. The youth ministry leaders are planning for the SYATP Rally they were going to have in the Tri-Valley (Livermore, Dublin and Pleasanton). “Hmm, how to tell them this isn’t something I’m interested in….” Well, it didn’t really come up that I wouldn’t be there, but I wonder if it will if I go back for a second meeting. You see, I’m not really interested in getting prayer back in the schools. I’m not really interested in being present with students while they pray for the strength to convert their friends. I do think helping students learn to pray and what works best for them is important – but I don’t think this is the way to go about doing it.
There is also something eerie, in a way, about gathering around an American flag to pray. I’m guessing it started because the flagpole was simply a common marker on all school campuses, but considering our current political climate, the way in which the American flag is a symbol of Empire and American politics and foreign policies have become too closely aligned with “Christianity” – I have a hard time gathering around a US flag to pray. In a similar vein, I think many churches should rethink the need to have an American flag in their sanctuaries.
So I did tell my high school students about SYATP – I let them know the information I knew, but also shared with them a bit about why I wasn’t going to be taking part in it. I let them know that if it was something that interested them, they should check it out, but that I wouldn’t be participating in it. I wasn’t at the pole this year for SYATP, and I don’t imagine I’ll go in the future. Some people made a good point by suggesting that perhaps I should be present to show the students an “alternative” to the type of influence or prayers they might hear from other youth ministry folk. I think that’s a valid point, but I think I can also do that without going to the pole.
What has your experience been with SYATP? Do you think I’m way off-base? Let me know.