Going too far
Yesterday, our youth group met at 4 p.m. By 4:10 p.m. we left the church and hit I-95 at exit 6 heading north for a Destination Unknown. These are trips where the youth gather to go to some location to work on a faith-related lesson in place, but they do not know where they are going or what they are doing until they get there.
At mile marker 9, a Camden County Sheriff's Office cruiser pulled in behind us. 2.5 miles later, the car hit its blue lights and I pulled over. I was cited for failure to maintain lane. I had, in fact, maintained the lane, but I did not argue. Instead I provided my license, registration and proof of insurance. They called in my license, then I was asked to step out of the car. I stood with the two officers (a second car had arrived) by the car while they wrote a ticket. They also brought Celeste, the other chaperone in the van back to the police car.
Then they said as a matter of course, they request permission to search vehicles due to the large volume of both illegal drugs and cash that travel I-95. Celeste and I gave permission for the police to search the van. During the search, one of the officers found a small baggie allegedly containing an estimated 1.5 grams of Cocaine. Both Celeste and I were handcuffed, but after discussion, Celeste was permitted to drive the church van to the jail, while I rode in the back of the cruiser. (Imagine what any of this looked like to passers by on I-95 as they saw the driver of a church van handcuffed and placed in a police car.)
Once at the jail, in the small courtroom within the building used for proceedings like this, I joined the teens and the "arresting officer" let them know that it was all fake. The set up had been to show them how quickly things could change. He warned them of the dangers of using drugs and also of even being in the same vehicle with someone who had illegal drugs in their possession.
But as I looked around at the faces, I realized I had gone too far. The kids were literally in shock from the incident. More than a few tears had been shed and several had to ask to call parents as they had already made cell phone calls from the side of the Interstate saying "Father Frank is being arrested." I apologized to the group, sincerely feeling bad that my stunt had caused them pain. I wanted the meeting to provide an unforgettable lesson, not emotional pain.
Yet, we did continue. A member of our church who had gotten into drug use and sales while at Camden County High School talked with the group about how doing what he thought was cool had wasted the first five years of his adult life. He told them about life in the Camden County Jail, and how quickly your life can change.
We left the jail, bought some snacks at a local store and went out to the River Walk in Woodbine to talk more. I offered that I was picking up feelings that a few of them saw me as "unsafe" while others felt I had betrayed their trust. Several openly admitted that was true. It was painful to see that, for all the right reasons, I had gone too far.
The dangers to these kids I love and others they are in school with are so great. Each of us as parents and concerned adults wants to shelter the students from the pain and suffering drug and alcohol abuse can create. Yet, if in attempting to shelter them from pain, I create emotional distress and a climate of distrust, I may have cut off the limb on which I was sitting.
I'm not writing to get sympathy. I know that the youth will be OK in the long run and that some good will come of the meeting. God has a knack for working all things together for the good. I write instead to struggle out loud with the question of how far is too far when trying to save our children. What I discovered yesterday is that betraying their trust feels too far gone to me. The least they can expect is for their pastor to be safe and trustworthy. I will work to rebuild that trust, knowing that God's grace is sufficient.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor + King of Peace Episcopal Church