The Vision and Voice of Youth
Youth began claiming their voice in the Episcopal Church in the early nineteenth century in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. For over eighty-five years, youth have shared their prophetic voices and have sought to be included in the legislative bodies at all levels of church government. Their vision of where the Holy Spirit has been leading the Episcopal Church has helped the church move forward on ecumenism, gender and racial equality, and social justice issues. As released in March 2012, the proposed cuts to the denomination’s budget reduce spending on Christian Formation from around thee million to $286,000, effectively eliminating youth from participating in the larger life and governance of the church.
I have written a paper (read it here) that traces the history of youth leadership in the Episcopal Church. If we are wise, we will embrace the voices of the young people in our church, commit to the personnel and financial resources that support their life and leadership in the church, and take seriously their vision of where the Holy Spirit is leading us.
The General Conventions in 2003, 2006, and 2009 each hosted concurrent events for youth who wanted to learn more about Convention but who were not one of the eighteen Official Youth Presence. But until 2009, General Conventions were scheduled at times that made it difficult for young people to attend, before many schools were finished for the summer.The local diocese hosted the concurrent youth events with support from the Ministries with Young People Cluster. In 2003 and 2006 those events included education about Convention, participation in and observation of hearings, and observation of both Houses.
However, in 2009, the youth event was held at a facility far from Convention, offered little Convention education, and youth had no opportunity to participate in the life of Convention other than the exhibit hall and one Eucharist. Unfortunately, funding for a concurrent youth event in 2012 was cut from the budget passed in 2009. The Province V Youth Minister’s Network plans to host a hospitality suite for individual churches and dioceses that choose to bring youth as visitors to Convention, but there are no plans as yet to make it an opportunity for a large number of youth and young people to gather to learn about our polity or participate in meaningful ways, outside of the eighteen selected as the Official Youth Presence.
Edward W. Rodman wrote, “Young people have the energy and the enthusiasm to believe they can make a difference when they are properly focused and have the appropriate support and resources to do so.” At every level of the church, support for youth and youth events require a network of trained adults working in relational ministries with youth. As written, the 2013-2015 budget proposes that formation work is really only effective and necessary at the parish and diocesan level. Unfortunately, as budgets have shrunk across the country, often the first cuts have come in Christian Formation and youth ministry at those levels. Budget and staff cuts at the Church Center over the years have meant that the Christian Education department, which had a staff of over thirty-five in 1968, has just three staff positions as we head into General Convention 2012, one of which is for youth. The Ministries with Young People Cluster, which spanned children through young adults, has been dispersed with the recent changes in the organization of the Church Center. Increased communication, coordination, and flexibility will be imperative to keep those networks functioning.
Across the country and all over social media we hear churches bewailing the lack of youth in their midst. For over 85 years now, the Episcopal Church has been abundantly blessed by youth and young people asking to participate in our governance at all levels, who want to come together as a church-wide body to worship, learn and grow in their faith. The budget for the next triennium in its current form from the Executive Council indicates that we need 90% less funding for Christian Formation in the next three years, effectively eliminating support for youth and young adult participation in our larger church family and showing them we have no interest in forming any more involved Christian youth like them.
As we head into General Convention 2012, there will be a lot of tough decisions to make and a lot of hard discussions to have. This shouldn’t be one of the really difficult choices. If we truly wish to inspire, renew, and transform the church we will choose to encourage and embrace the voices of our young people, commit to the personnel and financial resources that support their ministries and involvement, and take seriously their vision of where the Holy Spirit is leading us.
Meg is the Christian Formation Director at Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City, an MDiv student at Episcopal Divinity School, and a postulant from the Diocese of Iowa. She writes, “I had the privilege of working with youth in TEC for over 20 years and am in ministry myself largely because I grew up in the Diocese of Chicago where as a teenager I was invited, supported, and encouraged to be an active participant in my church at ALL levels.” The photo depicted here is of Meg with the team from Iowa attending GC 2009.