The average age of a General Convention deputy used to be more than 45 years.
But here in Minneapolis, if 18 youth deputies and about 200 other young adults attending convention-sponsored programs were factored in, that average would come way, way down.
Or – in “young person” talk – convention has become little less VH1 and a lot more MTV.
About 20 years ago deputies “decided they wanted the voice of youth at General Convention,” said Betsy Boyd, who works in youth ministries at the Church Center in New York.
In 1982, a resolution was passed at General Convention to invite youth ages 15 to 18 to hold seats at the triennial meetings. They are encouraged to participate in legislative sessions – they have “voice” – but they do not have the power to vote.
Every three years, two youth representatives are chosen from each province. Before convention they attend meetings to learn about the triennial event, and all the youth representatives receive copies of the Blue Book.
Boyd said the youth presence at convention is a transitional phase along the path toward electing a younger, more diverse group of deputies. Because youth at convention have no vote, their presence is less to influence legislation than to teach them how to get elected as deputies sometime in the near future, she said.
“A young person doesn’t have as much experience to get elected as a deputy,” Boyd said. “I think experience is needed as well as a new perspective, which creates the whole picture.”
Boyd also said youth at convention dispel the misconception that all youth have identical opinions or would vote the same way.
“Youth are as diverse in the way they think about things in the church as any group of people, but what they bring [to convention] is a young person’s perspective,” she said.
Some young people will also be attending convention as a way to gain their own perspective on how the church deals with today’s issues.
For 18-to-30-year-olds – the too-old-for-youth-group, too-young-for-married-couples’-potlucks crowd – there will be a Young Adult Festival during convention. Organized and facilitated by young adults, the festival provides a chance for college-age and post-college-age Episcopalians to experience a “gateway to General Convention” without being elected a deputy.
About 120 young adults, including eight international participants, have been divided into two groups that will each visit for one week. They will live in a large house owned by St. Mark’s Cathedral and learn to “Engage God’s Mission” in their lives and in context of their generation.
“It’s a way for the church to see that young adults are quite capable of doing things by themselves for the rest of the church,” said the Rev. Douglas Fenton, who works in young adult and higher education ministries at the Church Center in New York. “[Young adults] want to be taken seriously. They have serious things to say to the rest of the church.”
But nightly briefings about convention issues – focusing on those pertinent to young adults – and the opportunity to witness legislation are just part of the experience, Fenton said.
Although he said the young adult team wants “to encourage [participants] to be out of their sleeping bags and to participate in [General Convention];” many of the festival’s events and speakers will be in the house where they will stay.
The festival focuses on three aspects of a young adult’s life: physical, financial and spiritual. Guest speakers – who range from the president of the House of Deputies to yoga instructors to financial planners – are lined up for both sessions. Their goal is to provide young adults with life skills as well as opportunities for spiritual growth.
“It’ll be incredibly dynamic,” Fenton said.
Another educational opportunity for youth at convention is Count Me Faithful, a program designed to teach high-school aged youth about the church’s legislative processes. Through Count Me Faithful, youth will have access to convention’s Exhibit Hall and receive daily briefings about legislative sessions.