Building the Continuum

Supporting Formation and Vocation in The Episcopal Church

What Sets My Heart on Fire

by Sophia Reeder

I attended the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) in Minnesota this summer. It was an event filled with faith and fun, an event in which I found God, found friends, and found myself. One of the common sayings during EYE was “Are you on fire?!” To which one would respond “I’m on fire, are you on fire?!” What we meant was on fire with the Holy Spirit. EYE, along with the myriad of other church events I have attended since eighth grade, served to foster my faith, helping it to grow by leaps and bounds. My faith is what sets my heart on fire.

The first church event I ever attended was during the winter of my eighth grade year. It was a weekend retreat titled Winter Conference, and it would change my life forever. After that weekend I was hooked. I was inconsolable when I had to leave behind all my newly made, but deeply forged friendships. I joined a social networking site for the sole purpose of keeping in touch with these friends, and was back again for the next retreat. Returning to my everyday life was like leaping headfirst into a pool of ice cold water. Interactions with my classmates seemed far different, and not near as genuine as interacting with my church camp friends had been. I couldn’t wait to go back. Since then I have lost count of the number of summer camps and weekend retreats I have attended. What I do know is how profoundly they changed me.

These events fostered not only my faith, but my character as well. I became more confident in myself, more open-minded, more compassionate. I discovered that I have a passion for public speaking, for using my words and my voice to change the lives of others. During these events there are always several talks given, usually by the older participants. I gave my first talk during 10th grade. I love being able to share my faith with others, to help them through difficult times in their lives, to watch them grow in faith as I have. My faith guides me to seek out and help others whenever possible, to treat my enemies as my friends, and to practice wasteful love and radical acceptance. This is what sets my heart on fire.

As I understand it, the proposed budget for children/youth/young adult/adult formation has been cut from three million to about two hundred thousand. This would eliminate the children/youth/young adult/adult formation staff and offices at our Episcopal Church Center in New York City. As someone who has reaped the benefits of youth and young adult formation, this horrifies me. I do not know who I would be today if not for the life changing experiences I had through both diocesan events and national wide events like EYE.

It is my understanding that this budget cut was made under the assumption that all dioceses are independently able to provide adequate, if not strong, programs in these areas. I can tell you without any doubt that this is false. My own church has no youth programs, because we have next to no youth. But why should children and youth suffer because they are alone at their church?

I write to you not to ask for reconsideration on the behalf of myself and those near to me in age, but for those youth who have never experienced the true beauty of one of these programs. These programs make a world of difference in people’s lives. To cut the budget for them, effectively killing provincial and church-wide events, and even significantly harming local ones, would be to pass a death sentence upon the church.

The church of the future, the church of the present, is a church of the youth. If children, youth, young adults, and even adults do not experience formation in their faith, they will never learn to appreciate and love the gift we have in the Episcopal Church, and they will not come back to the church, leading and loving through it. Without the youth, the church will wither. And without youth programs, the youth not learn to love the church. And without an adequate amount of money in the budget for these programs, there will be no youth programs.

So I ask you from the bottom of my heart and soul to make a change to the proposed budget for General Convention 2012. The children and youth need you. May the Lord disturb and trouble you, may the Lord set an impossible task before you, and dare you to meet it. May the Lord give you the strength to do your best, and then, but only then, may the Lord grant you his peace.

Sophia Reeder is from the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.

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4 thoughts on “What Sets My Heart on Fire

  1. cmilliehart on said:

    This letter could have been written by my own daughter who is now 24 years old. She attended so many youth events and conferences from the time she was old enough. She never missed a chance to attend a program. Her trip to EYE was life altering. This summer our parish sent another young leader to EYE. I would say that her experience at EYE as well as other youth events are very similar to this author’s. The impact these programs have on our young leaders is more profound than anyone can imagine unless they know these participants. Programs like EYE strengthen and deepen these young leaders in ways that words can not express. Maybe our elder leaders should be required to participate in these kind of programs BEFORE drastically reducing their funding.

  2. Maggie Schutz on said:

    As someone who spent the entirety of high school going on nearly every youth event I could, it pains me to think of the funding for such important events being cut. I am 27 now, and still am closer to some of the people I met through the Diocesan events than people I went to school with. They are the people whom I know I can count on when I need a shoulder, an ear, or just a hug. They are my extended family.

    Before I went on my first retreat, I was lost. So incredibly lost that at 14, I was seriously considering suicide. New Beginnings changed that. In one weekend, I was filled with such love and confidence that my entire world changed. My parents did not recognize the child they picked up Sunday afternoon as the same sullen girl they had dropped off Friday evening. I went on to attend and staff many New Beginnings, and was on 9 Happening weekends in my high school years. I have since gone back as an adult on staff twice.

    As wonderful and life altering as those weekends were, EYE was incomparable. To not only see but meet teenagers from around not only the country but the world who shared my beliefs was so incredible that even now, 10 years later, I tear up thinking about it. There was such a tangible feeling of love on the campus of the University of Wyoming (EYE 2002) and our Prov 5 event en route, that my heart felt like it was swimming in a pool of warm fuzzies.

    Please listen to those of us who are saddened, disappointed, and even angered at this proposed cut in funding. Miss Reeder is correct in her logic that without youth programs, youth will not feel connected to the Episcopal church, and without youth that feel connected, the Episcopal church will wither and die as the current members grow elderly and eventually leave to rest with our Father. I cannot stress it enough: THE YOUTH ARE THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH! Please reconsider these cuts.

  3. I absolutely love the idea of asking “Are you on fire?” and responding with “I’m on fire, are you on fire?” The Holy Spirit is such an important part of our faith—I love that it was such a big part of the Episcopal Youth Event. Thank you for sharing this blog post. I’m going to send it to some of my fellow children’s ministers because I know they’ll love it as well.

  4. Pingback: Fiery Creation | Inside A Soul

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