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Andy Thompson chosen as winner of Edinburgh 2010 youth writing contest

[Episcopal News Service] Andy Thompson, an Episcopalian from West Hartford, Connecticut, and former Young Adult Service Corps volunteer, has been selected as the winner of the youth writing contest for Edinburgh 2010, a major ecumenical mission conference set for June 2-6 in the Scottish capital. His prize -- a sponsored trip to the conference.

Thompson heard about the writing competition through a friend who works with the World Council of Churches and, having reflected on the concept of mission and the connotations associated with it, he saw it as a good opportunity to put some ideas to paper and get some feedback on them.

When he heard that he'd won the competition, he said, "I was thrilled and honored. I actually had not anticipated that."

Thompson, 30, is a third year doctoral student in religious ethics at Yale University. Central to mission, he says, is the need to discern the truth of the Gospel in a specific context.

Thompson's essay deals with the relevance of an early 20th-century Anglican missionary and missiologist, Roland Allen, and his contemporary concerns about mission. "Allen advocated a return to St. Paul's methods as he understood them, emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit and the organic empowerment of mission communities," Thompson told ENS May 6 via telephone from West Hartford. "The essay brings together Allen's missiology with John Howard Yoder's ecclesiology to articulate a vision of mission that can respond adequately to the needs of today's church."

An Edinburgh 2010 news release described the writing contest as a "huge success with high-quality contributions from countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brazil, U.S., Germany, and the U.K."

Thompson's paper will be published along with nine other essays in a journal, "Edinburgh 2010 Youth: Youth Perspectives on Mission." Among the other essays is one from Jesse Zink, a former Young Adult Service Corps volunteer in South Africa who is currently studying at Yale Divinity School.

Thompson and his wife, the Rev. Leigh Preston, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Connecticut, served from 2007-8 as Young Adult Service Corps volunteers in El Salvador. Thompson worked in a parish in Sitio de los Nejapa, a poor rural community, an experience he describes as "extremely challenging and rewarding ... but the friendships we developed with parishioners and other people in the diocese were hugely important and will continue to have an impact on our lives."

Thompson refers to Sitio de los Nejapa in his essay as "a place of great need." But he notes that when the few community leaders try to mobilize support for their own efforts, or to encourage new leaders, they are met with indifference. "Many community members, particularly women with little formal education, attribute this apparent indifference to, among other things, feelings of inadequacy or lack of ability. They do not advocate on their own behalf, they say, because they are looked down on or ignored by local officials; they cannot be leaders because they lack the skills."

Through weekly Bible studies, Thompson says the women "are able to encourage one another to value their own voices. In reflecting on passages such as Matthew 11.25 -- 'I thank you, Father…because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants' -- they begin to overcome their self-doubt and recognize their ability to speak for themselves. This new self-awareness, in turn, empowers them to collaborate with leaders of the church and community to develop other programs…"

The story of the women of Sitio de Los Nejapa, Thompson says, is as "an example of discernment of the truth of the Gospel in a specific context."

And what about his hopes for Edinburgh 2010? "I am looking forward to learning," said Thompson. "Some of the speakers are very highly esteemed people in the field of mission and the opportunity to interact with them will be great."

Thompson said he has also been corresponding with some of the other young adults expected to attend the conference. "We have talked about the importance of ensuring the youth perspective will be represented and how it will constitute an important part of the conference," he said.

Born in West Virginia, Thompson earned a bachelor's degree in music from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and then worked for a year as a youth minister before entering the Master of Divinity program at Yale Divinity School.

Asked about his ambitions in life, Thompson said he looks forward to teaching at, he hopes, an Episcopal seminary, "and to continuing to work in ethics and reflecting on how the church can fulfill its role of proclaiming the Gospel and God's work to the world."

-- Matthew Davies is editor and international correspondent of the Episcopal News Service.

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