Being Part of the “Larger” Church
By Lydia Kelsey Bucklin
I was 15 years old when my life was changed by the Episcopal Youth Event. Coming from the small diocese of Northern Michigan, most churches were too small for youth groups, and even diocesan events were small and few in number. My dad was a priest in the diocese, and I was nervous about joining that community. EYE, however, sparked my interest. An opportunity to travel to another city and meet youth from all over the Episcopal Church sounded exciting. I felt like an outcast in high school, and struggled with depression and low self-esteem. I needed to get away, and I could not have entered a better community than the Episcopal Youth Event in Terre Haute, Indiana. There, on the campus of Indiana State University, I felt accepted for who I was. I interacted not just with other teenagers, but with adults who were genuinely interested in me and were glad I was there.
Sixteen years later, I have a vocation in the Episcopal Church, serving as the Missioner for Children and Youth and on the Communications team in the Diocese of Iowa. I am pursuing a Masters in Divinity degree from the Episcopal Divinity School. I also serve on the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education. It may seem like an exaggeration to say that I would not be who I am today if I had never attended EYE, but it was definitely a transformative event in my faith journey.
As a youth, I returned from EYE committed to finding my place in the church. I became a camp counselor and got more involved in diocesan events. I became an advocate for social justice at a young age and pursued a career in social work. I know many others, too, who, because of the ways the Episcopal Church impacted them at a young age, have had their lives changed. For this reason I feel the need to speak up.
The near depletion of funding for the Formation/Vocation office in the proposed 2013-2015 budget for the Episcopal Church is unsettling – not just because it may mean an end to EYE, but because it is sending a message that Christian formation is not a church-wide matter. Hand it over to the dioceses and local congregations, the notes on the budget say.
Speaking from the point of view of a diocese that puts formation at the center of our ministry, I absolutely agree that formation needs to happen on the local level. As a diocesan staff person with formation as a focus, I have fewer and fewer colleagues these days, not just on the diocesan level, but in local congregations as well. In our diocese alone, I know of only three paid formation professionals, and all three are part time. I receive requests every day for resources, curriculum, and assistance with Christian Formation, and not just for children and youth. A majority of our congregations are seeking multigenerational resources.
I am blessed to have a full time job which allows me to serve these congregations. We are blessed as a diocese to have a community that does not just say they value Christian Formation, but acts on it. Yes, we are doing the work on the local level AND we need the help of The Episcopal Church (church-wide). Our youth need opportunities to gather with others from near and far, who look different from them, and come from different life experiences. Personally, I need a network of colleagues to rely on to share resources and best practices. I value Forma (formerly NAECED) for assistance with this work, but this work also has a place in the Episcopal Church center.
We must come together from time to time to vision and dream about who we can be as a church. We must support and hold up one another in this ministry that can wear us down, but is ultimately life giving beyond belief. We need staff and funding on a denominational level to hold us together, to organize for us, to advocate for us, to nurture us, to motivate us, and to inspire us. We must stand up for this ministry.
Lydia Kelsey Bucklin is the Missioner for Children, Youth and Communications in the Diocese of Iowa. She is also a member of the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education.
The picture at the beginning of this essay feature Cookie Cantwell (Diocese of North Carolina), Randall Curtis (Diocese of Arkansas, Province VII), Emily Perow (Diocese of Connecticut, Province I), Brian Prior (Bishop, Diocese of Minnesota), Lydia Kelsey Bucklin (Diocese of Iowa, Province VI), Gennie Callard (Diocese of Western Michigan, Province V) and Bronwyn Skov, Staff Officer for Youth Ministries, DFMS.