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Toward Columbus: Youth, young adults add their perspective to Convention

By Daphne Mack
4/13/2006
[Episcopal News Service] 

The voices of youth and young adults in the Episcopal Church will be heard in many ways this June at General Convention.

For youth there are two distinct opportunities for participation in the triennial gathering: the General Convention Official Youth Presence, and E3: Educate, Experience, Empower.

At least four resolutions focusing on youth will be brought to convention.

Resolution A040, proposed by the Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism (SCDME), would direct the Office for Young Adult Ministry to offer leadership training opportunities for young adults. The resolution would also have the Church Center's office of Congregational Development include awareness of concerns about ministry with young adults in training events and develop educational resources for parish and diocesan leaders of all ages who seek to provide young adult ministry. Each diocese would be required to have at least two adults younger than 30 serving on diocesan governing boards and communicate the availability of these positions to young adults in the diocese. The resolution would also require that the names of the young adults filling these positions be included in the annual diocesan parochial report.

The commission also proposes a resolution (A041) that calls upon the Executive Council, dioceses, and congregations to affirm the importance of college and university ministries as locations for mission and evangelism. It also calls for giving campus ministries canonical status as mission congregations, whenever appropriate, and encourages dioceses to provide funding for a full or part-time staff position for ministry on every campus, whenever appropriate.

The Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church has proposed creating a new Standing Commission on Youth and Christian Formation (Resolution A105) because it said those program areas need their own way to make policy proposals to General Convention.

In another youth-related resolution, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music is proposing (A067) new rites and prayers for life transitions and stages in human development, including during the time of childhood and young adulthood.

A voice for youth

The Official Youth Presence, first authorized by the General Convention of 1982, is comprised of 18 people, two from each of the church's nine provinces. They will be seated on the floor of the House of Deputies with voice but not vote and will address the House of Deputies and House of Bishops, as well as the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) Triennial meeting, also taking place concurrently at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

In preparation for General Convention, these young people underwent an intensive weekend of training in Atlanta in March. During General Convention, they will be accompanied by provincial youth ministry coordinators, and Episcopal Church Center staff who will act as supporters and advisors. 

"My hope is that the Episcopal Church might embrace an opportunity for young people, children, youth, and young adults, to be put in their 'proper place' that is within the bounds (not necessarily at the center) of our community, however it expresses itself-at worship, in retreat, or in this case, in decision making," said Thom Chu, program director for Ministries with Young People at the Episcopal Church Center.

Gathering youth, to the third power

The second opportunity that exists for groups of diocesan youth visiting the General Convention is a gathering called E3: Educate, Experience, Empower.

E3 is sponsored by the Diocese of Southern Ohio with support from the Episcopal Church Center's Ministries with Young People Cluster.  Set for June 15-18, E3 is an "educational opportunity for students in grades 10-12 to learn about how the Episcopal Church works, enjoy the General Convention experience, and take the opportunity to offer a students point of view on issues facing the church," according to the Diocese of Southern Ohio's youth webpage http://www.dsoyouth.org/e3.
 

The goals of E3 are to:

  • Educate students about what General Convention is and how it works, as well as other topics including: history, polity, dress, presentation, terminology, hearings, legislative sessions (deputies and bishops); caucus, how to communicate, how to write a resolution, follow legislation through the convention, vocations, development of personal theology, looking for christ in Convention's actions, and getting promise from bishops to utilize E3 participants.
  • Experience the "inner gears" of convention by participating in and/or observing hearings, exhibit hall, worship, daily Bible study, House of Deputies, House of Bishops, etc. Help them be fully part of this convention.
  • Empower the students to have a positive experience that will influence them to return home and become active participants in all areas of their own parish and diocese.

Prior to General Convention, the youth in E3 partake in a day-long curriculum as a team.

The materials used in the curriculum are available to the public at http://www.dsoyouth.org/e3/Resources/education.htm.

"These are the best that we have ever had, and the feedback has been very positive, especially from adults who have been to General Convention in the past, wishing that they would have had this thorough a preparation themselves," Chu said.

Chu said this year's E3 gathering builds on the success of the 2003 General Convention "Count Me Faithful" youth gathering which drew 235 participants.

Invitation to young adults

General Convention will also offer young adults ages 18-30 the opportunity to connect with peers from around the country at the Young Adult Festival, which will take place June 12-19.

With the themed "Invitation," participants are invited to a deeper understanding of the Eucharist, how to manage their time and fit God in their life, how to fill in the gap in their church and attract the young adults in their community, and how to experience church.

"The festival is an opportunity for young adults to listen to their peers," said the Rev. Douglas Fenton, staff officer for the Office of Young Adult and Higher Educational Ministries. "It gives young people a place to be in community for thinking, dialoguing, and for spiritual development."

According to the Young Ministries website beginning June 13 and concluding June 17, participants can attend morning educational dialogue sessions including, "Minding the Gap," "God Happens in Our Everyday Lives," "Living Wi$ely," "Place in the Church," and "Living our Faith out Loud."

Afternoon sessions such as "Roaring Lambs," "The Still Small Voice and the Rule of Life," "Responding to God's call to love justice and do mercy," "Be Open to all the Possibilities," and "What Sabbath?" will serve as spiritual exercises.

"The hope is that this will be an opportunity for young adults to gather and find out what's going on in the church," said the Rev. David Umphlett, 28, of the Diocese of East Carolina.

Umphlett, who was part of the festival planning team, said the "idea is for participants to take in as much or as little of the sessions as they like."

"Every generation and age group has its appropriate work to do, and a voice to share," said Chu. "Every decision that is made at every level of the church, congregational, diocesan, and church-wide, in this case, has direct effects on young people today and tomorrow. It's only right to hear and consider their voices as the church discerns and deliberates together."