By Rev. Canon Keith Nethery
Following the deadly shooting at a high school in Parkland Florida, I was most impressed to see young people across the United States and in fact Canada, standing up and saying this is wrong, it has to stop and we must hold our leaders accountable.
And then I clicked on a story on the London Free Press website. It told the story of a 13 year old student at Lord Roberts school in London, organizing a student walkout in support of those who lost their lives and in support of those making their voice heard. That 13 year old is Lily Ryan and she is a member of St. James Westminster. I immediately emailed her to tell her how proud I was and told myself that I needed to tell you her story!
Now, when Lily birthed this idea, there was no guarantee that school officials would go along. She knew that there might be some repercussions, but she decided within herself that the issue was too important to back down.
So, at 10 am on Wednesday, March 7, Lily lead a group of almost 30 students out of the school to make a point of supporting the students in Florida and supporting the idea that society as a whole cannot accept these incidents of mass shootings and that changes have to be made. By this time Lily knew the school principal was in support of the walkout and after making their voices heard, Lily and the other students returned to class. Two and a half weeks later, Lily joined more than 300 people (mostly young adults and students) at a protest march in Victoria Park.
Lily says guns are a problem period. “The laws here in Canada are far from perfect, but they are better than the laws in the United States. It’s not right for politicians to make excuses. If the laws were tighter, people wouldn’t be able to get guns so easily. Nothing seems to be changing despite the shootings, so we have to make our voices heard.”
The violence in US schools is close to Lily’s heart as four of the five members of her family were born in the United States. The third of three children, Lily was born here, in London. Lily says her family is supportive and encouraging of her taking action.
This is not a one off idea for Lily. Being a voice for the voiceless is a big part of her life. In the last year she has also been involved in the “Take Back the Night Rally” and was a big part of a Me to We Day event at Lord Roberts as they marked a Day of Silence in support of those around the world who have no voice.
Lily says faith is a big part of what moves her to take stands on issues of social justice. “The Bible tells us we have to do what is right, even when it’s hard, even if we have to take risks. I talk about my faith with my friends and some have come to church with me. The Anglican Church is my church and I like that we try to help all people.”
Let me say that the Anglican Church is blessed to have Lily Ryan and her family. I am impressed with her leadership and the deep caring soul that she is. Lily is a part of a growing number of young people who are taking a stand and doing it in the context of their faith. It is important that we recognize, honour and encourage the efforts of all our young people, who are the church of today and are a tremendous witness to what God can do with and through us. Well done Lily!
Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is the rector at St. James’ Westminster, London.