Thoughts on the future of campus ministry

by Karl Stevens

Part 2 of 2

Part 1 is here.

What can parishes do for students? And how can those of us who specialize in campus ministry help parishes engage with the students in their midsts?

To begin with, campus ministers need to understand that a big part of their role is to act as translators between the classroom and the pews. Scholars are always figuring out new ways to encounter the world, or digging in the past to show that the innovations that seem so frightening are actually based on very old questions. A few months ago I went to a talk given by Don Hubin, a philosophy professor at OSU. Don was talking about the way in which new social phenomena tap into very old questions, and he used Grand Theft Auto to raise this question: do the things we do in our imaginations matter in the world outside of our imaginations? There’s a whole philosophical and theological tradition built around this single question. Imagine what it would be like if parish priests were able to speak from that tradition to every grandmother who’s worried that her grandson is playing Grand Theft Auto? The academy is often more tuned-in to real world concerns than the church is, and one way in which we can learn to turn our gaze to the world outside our parish doors is by following the academy’s lead.

So a chaplain or campus minister needs to be engaged on campus - going to lectures, sponsoring lectures, taking classes, working with student groups. But they need to do more than that. They need to find a way to convey what they’ve learned while on campus to the church as a whole. This might mean writing newsletter articles and blog posts. It might mean finding compelling ways of inviting people in the surrounding parishes to those self-same lectures. It might mean regularly going and speaking in parishes about the things that the chaplain has learned. Or it might mean podcasting, or tweeting, or creating a Tumblr, or taking advantage of any of the myriad of communication tools available to us today. Doing so might have a double advantage - it might mean also managing to reach students who aren’t on any campus, but pursuing their studies online.

Because of the changing nature of campuses, and the decreasing engagement of students, many chaplains are finding that the old model of organizing a ministry around a group simply isn’t working anymore. Students will come to church but not to campus ministry dinners or Bible studies. They’re taking classes, working full-time, and, in some cases, trying to raise a family. The amount of time they have to give to any other interests has gotten very small. But they still want to be engaged somehow, and they still want someone to talk to about their faith. This means that work with students has become much more person-centered, and much less group-centered. A campus minister or chaplain’s job comes to include many more one on one meetings with individuals - lunches, coffees - and many fewer big group events. This is time intensive and requires a different kind of accounting for a ministry’s work. Five coffee dates per week don’t look as good as twenty students at a Bible study. But it’s much more in keeping with the emergent church, which is decentralized, non-dogmatic, and draws its authority from relationship. And this is another thing chaplains and campus ministers can translate from the margins into the center of the church. Imagine what a parish would be like if it had trained pastors in the pews. Episcopal worship is only mysterious if there’s no one who’s willing to explain it. But a stranger entering our churches can get it easily if someone will sit with them and guide them through worship, and get to know them in the process. The very nature of a chaplain’s job makes her well-suited to teaching others how to engage in this kind of ministry. The listening and conversational skills gained through many, many cups of coffee with individual students can be passed on to any parish member, and those skills can help parishes engage anyone who comes through the doors, let alone students.

Finally, the work and experience of campus ministers can help the wider church, and parishes especially, to discover new forms of assembly. It is true that where two or three are gathered together, Christ will be in the midst of us. But it’s also true that Christianity has, since it’s beginning, been about assembly - the bringing together of groups of people to worship and engage in acts of charity and justice. We are at a moment of disruption, when our old patterns of assembly (i.e. Sunday morning church) aren’t working as well as they used to, and don’t bring us into contact with the world outside of the church. Emergent campus ministries have had to rethink the idea of assembly, and not assume that it means the same set of people coming together for the same purpose every week. An emergent assembly might be a weeklong mission trip, or an art gallery opening, or a winter retreat. Maybe the people who assemble don’t see each other again for a month, or a semester, or even a year. But there are certain things that we can only do as Christians when we are together as a group, and there’s great value in being with groups, immersed in diversity and learning from a multitude of voices. Campus ministries explore many different kinds of assembly, and can encourage parishes and other church organizations to do likewise.

There is no set model for doing campus ministry well. In some places, particularly private liberal arts colleges, the old model, meant to cater to four year residential students, is still more than viable. But in many places, it is not. There is no single model that can replace it, since a set of ideas that will work well in one place may not work at all in another. But I hope I’ve outlined three ways of thinking about campus ministry (as translation between church and academia, as expert in interpersonal relationships, and as experimental in finding new forms of assembly) that will benefit students, those sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning, and the church as a whole. This period of disruption will not end in the near future. But we don’t need to fear it. It brings new opportunities to changing ministries, and opens the center of the church up to hearing the voices from the margins and benefitting from them.

The Rev. Karl Stevens writes at Praxis. He is an Episcopal Priest and a writer and illustrator. He is exceedingly fortunate to be the Missioner for Campus Ministry with the Diocese of Southern Ohio. He also got lucky when he married the lovely Amy Stevens, with whom he has one glorious child. Early in the summer of 2013 he and a bunch of parishioners from Saint James's in Columbus set themselves on fire to demonstrate the properties of propane mixed with bubbly water and, of course, the power of the Holy Spirit. Everyone else got fantastic flames up and down their arms. Karl found that he had to cosset his flame like a small bird. He's trying not to read too much into that.

Thoughts on the future of campus ministry

by Karl Stevens

Part 1 of 2

Campus ministry used to be easy. In the beginning, no such thing had to exist, because most colleges and universities in America were founded by specific denominations, and populated by members of those denominations. Then, in the late 19th century, students at state institutions began forming denominational groups. Some of those denominations called ordained chaplains to minister to them directly. The Episcopal Church didn’t, with some notable exceptions, preferring to establish parishes near campuses and work with student chaplains. And it was pretty clear who those chaplains and parishes were meant to serve - four year residential undergraduates, and graduate students who might stay for longer but certainly lived within the vicinity of the campus and the church.

That model began to break down in the 1960s, as campus unrest led many nearby parishes to disengage. But there was also a larger social trend going on. The mainline denominations began losing members, and the denominational students on campus, who had once created ministries to serve themselves, were now no longer interested in those ministries. The impetus for forming Episcopal communities on campus shifted from the students to church institutions, and this marked the beginning of a decline.
For the past fifty years, the Episcopal Church has tried to keep a presence on campus by hiring campus ministers and chaplains, who sometimes step in to serve healthy and existing communities, but often are charged with creating such communities out of thin air. This has made for challenging work, and the challenge is increasing due to one simple fact: four year residential undergraduates are no longer the majority of American college students.

According to the Higher Education Research Institute only 40.6% of students who enter as full-time undergraduates complete their education in four years. So there goes the idea of a four year education. Couple this with the fact that a growing number of students are part-time or taking online courses, and the percentage of “traditional” students falls to 20%. Yet these are the students that higher education institutions were set-up to cater to, and these are the students that campus ministries have relied on to remain viable. But if they’re not on campus, they can’t be expected to be in campus churches. And for those who are on campus, they don’t value denominational identity in the way that their 19th century forbears did. For the most part, they’re not looking for other Episcopal students to bond with over their shared Episcopalianism.
This obviously presents some very strong challenges to Episcopal campus ministry and to the church in general. But in some ways Episcopalians are more fortunate than our sisters and brothers in other denominations. Because we never separated the idea of campus ministry from parish life, we still have the basic scaffolding that allows outreach to students. While many denominations have closed down the dorms they once owned and sold off their campus ministry houses, we still have viable parishes near campuses that are mostly supported by their own membership, rather than by funding from a diocese or the national church.

Of course, this very blessing requires something of us. Much of what I’ve said about the history of campus ministry in the Episcopal Church comes from a thesis by the Rev. Brian Turner. Brian points out that the clergy who served parishes near campuses in the 19th and 20th centuries were expected to have some scholarship, and to understand “the needs and aspirations and perplexities of youth.” Now that students are of multiple ages and, if they’re taking online classes, are sitting in the pews of churches that are nowhere near a campus, this 19th and 20th century demand that parishes and priests understand students and learn how to speak to them has become universal.

The “needs and aspirations and perplexities” of students are different now then they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The vast majority of students (87.9%) believe that going to college will help them get a better job. They’re focused on their future earnings potential, but they have good reason to be anxious about this potential, since almost a third of recent college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree. They’re not finding opportunities to use the education that they paid so much for (the cost of higher education increases by 7.8% per year, which is higher than medical costs and more than double the rise in consumer prices). They’re worried about their future, and they didn’t necessarily take the time in college to wallow in great books and great thoughts. This should come as a relief to priests and parishioners who are worried that they might have to have PhDs to communicate with students. But it also means that these students probably haven’t been introduced to the great intellectual traditions of Christianity, nor have they had the opportunity to think about their faith’s relationship to the classes they took, the life they want to lead, and the ways in which new academic discoveries are shaping the world.

What can parishes do for them? And how can those of us who specialize in campus ministry help parishes engage with the students in their midsts? (read part 2 next)

The Rev. Karl Stevens writes at Praxis. He is an Episcopal Priest and a writer and illustrator. He is exceedingly fortunate to be the Missioner for Campus Ministry with the Diocese of Southern Ohio. He also got lucky when he married the lovely Amy Stevens, with whom he has one glorious child. Early in the summer of 2013 he and a bunch of parishioners from Saint James's in Columbus set themselves on fire to demonstrate the properties of propane mixed with bubbly water and, of course, the power of the Holy Spirit. Everyone else got fantastic flames up and down their arms. Karl found that he had to cosset his flame like a small bird. He's trying not to read too much into that.

Summer Camp is Young Adult Ministry, Too

by Martha Korienek

This past summer I had the joy of being the Spiritual Director for Camp Chicago, the summer camp for the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. My job description was three-fold: make sure that there is worship offered daily, work with the volunteer clergy to offer formation experiences, and be the chaplain to the staff. It was in this last role (as chaplain) that I heard repeatedly that camp matters a great deal to the staff, most of whom were young adults; camp was one of the few places where they could benefit from being in Christian community with their peers, since their experience is that communities of young adults are few and far between in the Episcopal Church. Nate (a staff member) put it this way: “Just being in a really Christian community, in a camp community, where you’re safe, it makes it really easy to see your own gifts and to see gifts in others, which is also very important as a Christian—seeing Christ in other people and seeing gifts in other people.” This is the church at its best—a place where people grow closer to God and others, and through that, grow into the person they were created to be. The young adults who staff summer camps are drawn to this kind of church, where people seek and serve Christ in one another.

These staff members loved their ministries (being a counselor, teaching archery, etc.) but were also at camp because of what camp offered them: quality young adult ministry. They had a chance to “be church” with people who were more or less at a similar place in their discernment of what God is calling them to do with their lives. And so, they had access to countless conversations about calling and purpose, something for which they had been longing. Reflecting back on these conversations, one staff member, Anna, told me, “I believe the staff saw gifts or talents in me that I had not yet discovered and they did everything to help me grow and realize the potential I had.” For Anna, similar to Nate, being in Christian community had a direct impact on her self-understanding, especially when considering what Spirit-given gifts they might have, and how they can use these to become the person God has created them to be. And for Anna, who is not a regular church attendee, staffing at Camp Chicago was her only opportunity to explore these questions.

And following a trend of other camps (thank you Camp Wright and Camp Stronghold for this idea!), we ended each week with a Bible study that helped the staff to see where God had been at work the previous week. Heather (a staff member) shared me with how our Bible study on Galatians 5:22-23 affected her: “when it came to actually communicating with God, building my own relationship, I felt that was hard because God wasn’t something that I could see… especially this year at camp we did a lot of ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ and took time to recognize where we saw God—the Holy Spirit working throughout camp, and that was helpful for me to take a step back and be like, ‘God is here.’” In conversations that I had with them after camp, they all said that this simple Bible study was a spiritually enriching experience, and helped them to connect their personal efforts with God’s building of the kingdom, which is a connection that they’ve hopefully learned to see in the rest of their lives.

Let me be clear: these young adults were not at camp for self-serving purposes. They were dedicated to their ministry at camp, whatever it might be. And it was this combination of discerning gifts in community, as well as serving others, that really made camp an experience to grow closer to God through understanding better who God is calling them to be. Nate shared that serving at camp was crucial to his understanding of himself as a follower of Jesus: “Even though you’re in a place where everyone is loving, everyone is supportive, there’s no judgment, you’re still feeling yourself pushed to be a better person by the community…no one is pressuring you, other than yourself. You really feel an innate desire to serve as Christ for these kids.” And not only did these young adults desire to serve as Christ served, they also had multiple opportunities to serve other people, all of which they accepted and did with grace. Since this group of young adults had this kind of desire to serve others, they were grateful for the chance to do this at camp. As their chaplain, I learned a lot about Christ by witnessing the way they tried to be Christ-like in their service to others.

Throughout the Episcopal Church, summer camp has a strong tradition of being an excellent ministry for the campers (usually children and youth). Through the reflections of members of the Camp Chicago 2013 staff, it is clear that church camp is a critical ministry of the Episcopal Church, not just for the campers, but also for the young adults who staff the camp, so that they can grow in their faith and vocation, and fulfill their ministry in the church for the building of the kingdom and to the glory of God. After witnessing the transformation that took place in the lives of the staff members this summer through their intentional conversations about vocation with their peers, their considering what Scripture means in their individual and communal lives, and the ways that they lived out their Christian calling, I wonder: is it possible for the diocesan summer camps throughout the Episcopal Church to also develop a tradition of being an excellent ministry for the young adults who staff it?


The Rev. Martha Korienek is the Associate Rector at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Burlingame, CA, as well as part-time M.A. student at Virginia Theological Seminary, with a focus on ministry with young adults.

Beer to Attract Church Members? No.
To Celebrate God's Grace? Yes.

by Win Bassett

NPR published a story this morning with the headline, "To Stave Off Decline, Churches Attract New Members With Beer, and the article's accompanying audio is available on Weekend Edition Sunday. The writer profiles a few churches across the United States who have begun using craft beer to counter a decline in church membership:

A guy sits at the bar nursing a beer, he overhears the Gospel of Luke, he sees people line up to take bread and wine, he gets curious. Phil Heinze says pub church has now become an official — if edgy — Lutheran mission.
...
"I think the institutional church now is getting onboard," says Heinze, "because there's a lot of anxiety frankly about the church's decline and they're trying to think outside of that institutional box."

One of my Twitter followers remarked that she thought the headline misled readers. "The story is more re: being able to come as you are," she wrote. Admittedly, one of the church leaders questioned in the article said, "I'm not interested, frankly, in making more church members.... I'm interested in having people have significant relationships around Jesus. And if it turns out to be craft beer, fine." The general angle of this particular report, however, does focus on recruitment:
The Christian Church Disciples of Christ — a small mainline Protestant denomination — has experienced a steep drop in membership in recent decades. Beer & Hymns is one attempt to attract new people, in this hip, beer-loving city, while keeping a safe distance away from stained-glass windows.

Combining beer and religion — and more specifically, Christianity — is nothing new. Catholic dioceses have used "Theology on Tap" programs for more than thirty years, and I recently wrote about Grace Episcopal Church in Massies Mill, Va., and The Graceful Brewers Guild. Church leadership, in these cases, didn't implement beer programs to bump declining church membership. "We're enjoying the fellowship involved with creating an ale that can be enjoyed at special occasions at our parish," The Rev. Marion Kanour, Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, said. In other words, these churches and others use community-building powers of beer to facilitate fellowship around God and not simply to put more butts in pews.

Introducing alcohol, or anything for that matter (food, travel excursions, book clubs, etc.), merely to increase church membership runs the risk of using idolatry to bring people to God. Paul said in his speech to the Athenians,

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For "In him we live and move and have our being"; as even some of your own poets have said, "For we too are his offspring." Acts 17:24-28, NRSV.

God doesn't live in beer made by human hands. God lives in the hands themselves ("For 'In him we live and move and have our being'.") Perhaps the churches mentioned in the NPR piece, to bring more people to God, should encourage wanderers to "search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him" instead of filling the groping hands with pint glasses. "Indeed he is not far from each one of us," and once we find him, then we may rejoice with the fruit of our neighbors' labors--not the other way around.


Win Bassett is from southwestern Virginia and is a seminarian at Yale Divinity School. Follow him on Twitter: @winbassett.

A catholic future for the Episcopal Church

by Jared C. Cramer

As I approach nearly ten years worshiping in the Episcopal Church, including nearly five as a priest of the church, I’m struck by what first drew me into the church as someone in his young twenties. Though I was raised in an evangelical tradition, it was one that emphasized both the early church and the importance of reason, study, and intellect in the practice of the Christian faith. The more I studied in my undergraduate and graduate work, the more I found myself drawn to a more ancient expression of Christianity, one that didn’t view the early church merely as an historic curiosity, but instead as a group to whom we were organically connected. I began to realize that certain ideas I had been told were “catholic innovations” growing up—ideas like the Presence of Christ in Communion, a hierarchical structure, the veneration of saints—these were actually important concepts in the church from her earliest centuries.

For the past five years, my priestly ministry has been deeply shaped by a group known as the Society of Catholic Priests in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. The Society began in England in the mid-nineties as a place for Anglo-Catholic clergy who also supported the ordination of women and of gay and lesbian Christians. It believed that the ideals of the catholic heritage of Anglicanism were not only essential, but that they needed a resurgence in the church today.

Five years ago, along with a handful of colleagues, the Society came to North America. Over that five years we have grown to count over two hundred priests, deacons, bishops, or vowed religious among our membership. We have hosted Annual Conferences in New Haven, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Plans are now underway for our Fifth Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

And, I must say, I believe the mission of the Society is a tremendously important one in the Episcopal Church today. We are not a political organization. Whereas our mother Society in England is still spending significant time fighting on behalf of our female and GLBT colleagues, we have a different context in the Episcopal Church. We absolutely embrace all those ordained to Holy Orders in our church… but our true charism moves beyond that. We have two twin aims: the cultivation of priestly spirituality and the growth of catholic evangelism.

Originally, the founding membership of the Society wrestled with the role lay people might play in our life. We decided in those first years that the focus should be on honing our identity and providing a place for deepening the spirituality of our clergy. However, we also increasingly discovered the gifts lay people were bringing to the aims of priestly spirituality and catholic evangelism. Many of us have lay spiritual directors who keep our ministries centered on the person and teaching of Christ. All of our conferences have had presenters who were lay academics, enriching our understanding of the church and of what catholic evangelism might look like in the twentieth century. People like Dr. Derek Olsen, a leading lay voice in the church on questions of liturgy and the church, along with being a contributor to Episcopal Café, have brought profound depth to our Conference experiences.

The Society is certainly not simply a “gin and lace” group—our discussions have focused on questions regarding church planting, the faithful practice of hearing and making confession, healing ministry, and beauty in the church. Of course, there is still a bit of gin and lace among us—we are, after all, a society of Anglo-Catholics—but the center of our existence is much deeper than that.

As we have developed and grown, the question of lay involvement has been more pressing and has resulted in a significant change for our 2013 Conference. Registration has opened to include lay and ordained guests, those who may be interested or curious about the Society, but who are not members. With speakers ranging from former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to gifted author and retreat leader Martin Smith, we are hopeful that we will indeed be joined in Philadelphia by a broader group of Episcopalians and members of the Anglican Church of Canada.

It’s sort of cliché these days to say that the Episcopal Church stands at a crossroads. As some of the debates of the latter twentieth-century begin to subside, we will need to ask how modern Anglicans will define themselves. We are absolutely a church that welcomes all, that affirms and celebrates the gifts of all baptized Christians, regardless of gender or sexual orientation… but can we be more than that?

What might it mean for us now to move more deeply into the spiritual practice of the church? What might it mean for us to seek, through sacrament and piety, to find old and new ways of conforming ourselves to the mind of Christ? How might the riches of our theological and liturgical heritage bring a new sense of beauty and the divine to the lives of twenty-first century North Americans who are unsure what good, if any, the church has to do in the world?

Many of the members of the Society, myself included, believe that we are on the cusp of a new revival in the Episcopal Church. The membership of the Society skews particularly young, as our strongest growing segments are seminarians and clergy under 35. Our conversations are filled with experience of younger people entering the church, looking not for a political sermon (whether from the right or the left) that merely confirms what they already think, but instead looking for an experience with the Divine Mystery.

Yes, I do believe that we are on the cusp of a possible new revival in the Episcopal Church. As we engage in the work of restructuring, as we seek to re-imagine what Anglican Christianity looks like in North America, I believe that by diving deep into our rich heritage we can reclaim a way forward that invites us into a way of life that is more than individual wants, needs, or preferences.

And I hope, I dearly hope, that all baptized members of this church, whether lay or ordained, who want to explore what this vision might look like, will join my sister and brothers in the Society in Philadelphia as we explore the Catholic Future of the Episcopal Church.

More information on the Society can be found online here.
Information on the Fifth Annual Conference is here.


The Very Rev. Jared C. Cramer serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, MI, and as dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan. He is also on the Provincial Council of the Society of Catholic Priests. His reflections on life and ministry can be found at carewiththecure.blogspot.com

If we did wedding preparation like confirmation preparation

by Laura Toepfer

“It’s time for you to get married,” my mother said to me one afternoon when I came home from school.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Yes,” Mom continued. “I’ve talked to the priest about it because it’s time for you to get married. I got married at your age and if you don’t get married soon then I’m worried you’ll leave the possibility of having a committed relationship behind you forever.”

This was news to me. Up until five minutes earlier, I had not been told the window of opportunity was closing. I was 14 and had a lot of questions about what my future would hold. I figured marriage would be part of it. After all, I had lots of friends and was learning to tell the difference between the ones I trusted and the ones I didn’t. I was testing things out, making mistakes, sure, and discovering that some playmates from childhood maybe wouldn’t hold up as friends for the rest of my life. Surely all of this was part of deciding – eventually – on the person I would settle with forever.

I didn’t know how to say this, though, so I just said to Mom, “I don’t think I want to get married right now.”

“Oh, there’s so much you need to learn about getting married. The priest has already set up a series of classes and I’ve signed you up to go.”

“What if I don’t want to go?”

“Don’t argue. Just go to the classes and get married. That’s all I’m asking.”

What could I do? I was 14. I went.

***
“Meet Jordan,” the priest said to me. “Jordan’s the person you’re going to marry.”

I eyed Jordan warily. We’d been in Sunday School together and even had a lot of fun, play dates, that kind of thing. But being forced to marry…that was a whole different story. I wanted to make sure we really knew and loved each other first before that happened. I thought Jordan would feel that way too, but we didn’t actually get a chance to talk.

“Let me tell you all about Jordan,” said the priest who spent the next hour telling me all about Jordan: Jordan’s family background, Jordan’s favorite things, Jordan’s pet peeves. “Now, tell me what I just told you,” the priest said to me. “Actually, why don’t you write an essay about Jordan and bring it to our next session. I’ll see you then.”

I figured the next week would be my turn and I wondered when the priest would ask me all about myself and my family and the things I like and don’t like. Given how much the priest knew about Jordan, I figured I’d be interviewed for hours. But when I showed up for our next session, the priest just took my essay, read it over, and then started talking about Jordan again. Jordan, Jordan, Jordan.

Week after week, I took quizzes and wrote essays all about Jordan. I had questions and the priest answered them, but mostly I would have liked to say something about myself. And I would have liked to talk to Jordan directly. But it never happened.

It made me mad at Jordan, I have to tell you, which wasn’t really fair, since Jordan just sat there quietly and the priest did most of the talking except when I got asked to repeat what I’d been told.

The day of the wedding was coming up and Mom had a party planned. The priest walked me through what I needed to do. But no one ever asked me whether I wanted to get married or not. It was all just assumed. “Uncle Bert and Aunt Mildred are coming,” mom said. “They’re so looking forward to seeing you get married.”

I showed up at the church, but I wasn’t happy about it. I went through the motions and said I do. But no one knew what I really thought, which was, “What does this have to do with me? No one knows anything about me. I’m marrying someone who doesn’t know what I’m like and no one cares.”

But I got married. And after the party, I never saw Jordan again. I didn’t think that’s what getting married was going to be like. I thought it would have something more to do with me too, not just passing quizzes about Jordan and making sure my aunt and uncle were happy. But I guess not, since I got married. I guess that’s all people really wanted.


The Rev. Laura Toepfer is the Managing Director of Confirm not Conform.

Harvard students reflect on a week of marathon terror

By Luther Zeigler

Harvard seniors Ali Evans and Robert Tamai crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon just under the four-hour mark at approximately 2:49 p.m. last Monday. A minute later they heard a blast they would never forget. According to a report in the Harvard Gazette, Evans said: “when I saw the smoke rising and heard the initial screams, I turned to Robert and yelled, ‘Run, man, run!’” As the two students sprinted to safety, Evans says she shouted the Lord’s Prayer “at the top of my lungs, repeatedly.” Friends of Evans and Tamai, who were at the finish line to meet them, were ten yards from the first explosion. Amazingly, they were not injured.

The undergraduate President of our Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard, senior Graham Simpson, was at mile 25 near Fenway Park when the two bombs exploded. In a homily delivered this past Sunday evening, Graham described his experience of the chaos of that moment: “I had no idea what had happened until I started receiving texts from people asking me if I was okay and what was going on. It seemed impossible to believe at first, but we started walking back towards campus, deciding right away not to take public transportation. I was overwhelmed as I tried to sort out what was going on and what my friends and I should be doing . . . . Even once I crossed the river, the situation continued to overwhelm me. I was safe and so was everybody that I knew. But it was immediately clear that dozens, if not hundreds, were hurt and that at least two people were dead including an eight-year-old boy. My phone continued to buzz with texts asking me if I was all right and if I knew what was going on. I received so many texts that read simply, ‘Love you,’ words that had never felt more heart-felt and sincere. Sadness, relief, anger, sympathy, fear, and love all swept over me, in a cloud of contradictory emotions.”

Yet, as was to become clear the next day, the Harvard community was not spared by the tragedy. One of the victims to die in the blast was Krystle Campbell, a former Harvard Business School employee whose mother and brother still work at the University. On Wednesday afternoon, the business school community gathered to remember Krystle and the other victims. Led in prayer by my fellow Harvard chaplain, Fr. George Salzmann, hundreds were on hand at the Business School to express their support for the Campbell family and to lean on one another.

That same Wednesday, I worked with students and other Harvard chaplains to organize a candlelight vigil in Harvard Yard on the steps of Memorial Church. The Harvard Glee Club opened the service with song as dusk came over the Yard, illuminated only by the candles of the hundreds gathered. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Humanist chaplains were all there, united in their commitment to peacemaking and in their stand against violence.

Harvard juniors Tara Raghuveer and Anqi Peng both spoke at the vigil. Peng, whose Boston Marathon race stopped just short of the finish line when the explosions hit, said that when she returned to campus all she wanted to do was find – and hug – every one of her friends. But Peng also commented on the incredible outpouring of selfless generosity she witnessed by police, bystanders and local businesspeople in the chaos at the finish line. As Harvard University President Drew Faust put it in her remarks that night, it is precisely these simple acts of human goodness that we should notice. Quoting the words of Toni Morrison, who recently spoke on campus, Faust reminded us: “We tend to overlook goodness, and we must put goodness in the center of our lives.”

Jonathan Walton, the new Pusey Minister of Memorial Church, offered a benediction to close the Wednesday evening vigil, in which he observed: “Anxiety is understandable and anger over senseless acts of terror is appropriate.” But, Walton entreated: “Don’t allow your anxiety or your anger to take your mind to an awful place. Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.” Looking out at the flickering points of candlelight, Walton sent us out with the words: “As you blow out your candles tonight, let the light of God light you up.”

But then the violence returned the next night, as the two suspects emerged from the darkness in a violent outburst on nearby MIT’s campus, leaving one of its security officers dead and others badly injured. The older of the two brothers suspected of bombing the marathon also ended up dead in the streets. Then came the manhunt for the younger brother in neighboring Watertown, followed by the lockdown that kept us all confined in fear and anxiety until this young, nineteen year old boy was captured on Friday night.

As we learned more about the Tsarnaev brothers throughout the day on Friday, and their deep ties to the Cambridge community, it was no longer possible to dismiss them with mere labels like ‘Chechnyan terrorists’ or ‘radical Muslims’ as some in the media were inclined to do. For, truth be told, they were one of us, American kids from the neighborhood, our neighborhood. Here is how senior Graham Simpson put it in his homily:

“When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured Friday night, I felt relief. I hoped for some sort of justice. I was satisfied that our law enforcement had successfully pulled off their manhunt. But I felt very uneasy, confused and further saddened. How could a 19-year-old that lived within two blocks of one friend, had worked at a Harvard pool with another friend, and had played one-on-one basketball with a third committed such hateful acts? He seemed like such a normal American citizen. He had wrestled at his high school, won a scholarship, and liked to play FIFA. It doesn’t fit for me. I could feel no joy at Facebook statuses of ‘Got him’ or consider going out to the parties that had been rescheduled in celebration of his capture. I did not – and still do not – know how to react. An unclear muddle of thoughts fills my head.”

Meditating on one of the readings for this past Sunday, Psalm 23, Simpson concluded his homily by wondering aloud whether the Christian life may itself be a paradox that holds together both the inexplicable suffering of this life and the hope of new and fuller human relationship:

“I am trying to accept that it is okay to feel conflicted and confused at times like this. That is part of what makes us human. And it is in these moments that we can reach out to God and feel the Holy Spirit. The Lord is with us in green pastures and he leads us beside still waters. The Lord also walks us through the valley of the shadow of death with his rod and his staff. And sometimes we are not sure whether we are in the green pastures or the valley of death’s shadow. Maybe we can be in both places at the same time. We can experience the suffering of the cross and the hope of the resurrection. . . . The shepherd protects and guides us, but the shepherd also feels our pain and fear. And as Christ is in all of us, we must all feel each other’s pain and also protect one another. We look to the hope of a new day, but that does not mean that we cannot mourn and lament. Perhaps it is in the midst of this contradiction that we are called to live.”

The Reverend Luther Zeigler is the Episcopal Chaplain at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Control of the Church - continued

I have read with great interest the recent post about Baby Boomers and Control of the Church. I have not commented up to this point, as online commentary has, quite literally, gotten me a great deal of trouble at my parish. Even mentioning the fact that my comments online have gotten me in trouble is potentially fodder for more problems, and indicative of the challenges faced by members of an open-culture generation.

Indeed the idea of requiring anonymity is anathema to who I am and what I stand for.

However, neither I nor my family can afford the emotional and spiritual burden of being asked to leave a parish. We have wandered like nomads, exiles from the Church of our childhood (Roman Catholic), and as broken and abusive as the Episcopal Church can be, it is a home we do not want to be kicked out of. Neither can we afford to lose the small amount I am paid for my two part time jobs, nor can we risk the anger of those who sit in judgement over priestly vocations on Parish and Diocesan discernment committees.

In this alone - the context requiring anonymity - you can begin to see the problems for people of my generation.

My spouse and I work, in various capacities, both officially and unofficially, for the parish and the diocese. We are paid a little, we volunteer a great deal. We attend Vestry and Committe meetings. We have taken the time to meet and develop relationships with the Bishop and with others in leadership throughout the diocese and within our parish. We are as close to "model church members" as you are likely to find among our generation.

So what has our experience been? On many levels, very positive. We love the parish, the people, the community. I personally enjoy Sunday Liturgy more than I have in a very long time.

On the other hand, disagreements are generally not explored, dissenting opinions are dismissed with statements like, "we have to be practical," or "if you [fill in the blank] you would understand." Legitimately supported arguments from scripture are often dismissed because "we don't quote the Bible at people here." Enthusiasm is seen as being suspect. Social Media and open forums are frowned upon, because all messaging needs to be approved by the relevant authorities. Complaints aginst our work or decisions are dealt with in secret, the results then pronounced to us: you will do X, and you will not do Y; rather than being discussed openly in a community forum. Raising questions about the morality or wisdom of certain courses of action bring accusations of being "too judgmental," or "too idealistic," or of being disloyal, or simply being an outsider who wasn't there when the problems began, and so has nothing to say about the present situation. Passion for justice, passion for growth, passion for good liturgy, passion for evangelization, even passion and love for the community, the parish, and the Episcopal Church itself- these passions are mistaken as somehow having a bad attitude or an argumentative "tone."

I will not get into the specifics of what the disagreements may have been- it isn't particularly relevant. Every parish, every comunity has its own issues, and if there are young people around, there will be disagreements: on the nature of tradition, on the meaning of scripture, on musical preferences, on liturgical style, on the very essence of the Gospel message. If you happen to be so lucky as to be attracting people from other denominations (something my parish does VERY WELL), those disagreements will be even more pronounced. The old guard needs to take seriously the witness and the wisdom of people my age. Whatever you want to say about the sorry state of my generation (and it's bad out there, I agree), the few of us who have bothered to show up for organized religion represent the best and brightest. We are educated. We take both organized religion AND personal spirituality very seriously. Our theology tends orthodox. Our liturgical preferences tend AWAY FROM turn-of-the-cenutry mainline Protestantism, toward our ancient roots in Anglo-Catholicism on the one hand and/or toward progressive emotion-driven contemporary worship on the other. Our missional understandings tend toward social justice, toward the inclusion of the marginalized. We take the Bible seriously, and are largely outraged by the casual dismissal of it in favor of secularized religious play-acting. We are not afraid of church growth, we do not think "evangelism" is a dirty word. We think churches exist for the people outside of them, not primarily for the benfit of their members.

And we love our churches. Indeed, given the frustrations, you should assume that those of us who are still around are deeply committed to our relationship with the denominations and parishes we associate with. Unlike our parents' generation, racked with divorce and infidelity, we take our vows VERY SERIOUSLY, and do not enter into them lightly. We love our parishes, and the accusations that our desire for change or our disagreements bring - that we are disloyal, that we are immature - grieve us deeply, making us question whether it is worth it, whether we shouldn't just pack up and go home, maybe start a little worship service in our house and feed the poor on our own time. But we don't just leave. At least, some of us don't. We who stay, stay because we feel God has called us to this work. We stay because we have known no other home than a parish community, and we are tired to the bone of feeling like nomads and exiles. We stay because we know that if we let our wavering faith shake our commitment, it will mean that the less spirtiually fortunate members of our generation will never have the opportunity to find Jesus in community.

Religious baby boomers raised a generation of kids that fled from churches as soon as they got the chance. Those of us among their children who escaped the cataclysm of being raised in the 80s and 90s, those of us who are still here, you need to listen to what we have to say. The decline of mainline Protestantism, the lack of religious conviction (or even basic Biblical knowledge) among the vast majority of my age cohort should be proof enough that whatever has been going on for the last 40 years or so has been an unmitigated disaster. The handful of us who actually understand this AND still have hope deserve to be listened to.

But it requires that those who have presided over the decline recognize that they are responsible for it, an admission of culpability that I do not see anyone readily being willing to admit to. It further requires that we understand that resurrection only comes through death. Church leadership seems to be very good at calling other people to "stand in a crucified place," but when it comes to their own institutions, their own buildings, their own ideas and opinions about what all this means, many would rather wage lawsuits or threaten to excommunicate and fire, rather than accepting the death that comes with following the Gospel of Jesus Christ- and by fearing death, resurrection is denied.

I have no big answers for how to change the culture of our Church to listen better to the voices of youth. Heck, I'd be thrilled if we could change the culture so we listen more to the voice of the Gospel.

I do have a small handful of recommendations:

1. An Indaba-like process the gives youth - and really, anyone outside the existing power structure - the opportunity to share their ideas and concerns in a safe place without fear of being fired or excommunicated or called disloyal. These need to be ongoing, not a one-time and we accomplished it sort of thing.

2. Reverse mentoring. Older leaders need to find younger people in the church and build a relationship with them centered on the older person asking the younger person for advice. Again, this needs to be an ongoing process, not a one time event.

3. The path to ordination needs to be made shorter and less burdensome. Further, concerted effort needs to be put toward developing priestly vocations among high school and college students. We cannot have a church where every new priest is a retiree in a second career. We cannot have a church where an enthusiastic twenty-seven year old doesn't become a priest until she is an exhausted and disillusioned thirty-seven year old.

Beyond that, we can only pray and trust that Holy Spirit will open up our doors and windows for a breath of fresh air and the aggiornamento that our Church badly needs.


We at the Café don't usually publish anonymous essays - but feel that this one was a voice who added something to the conversation. Hoping those who comment will discuss the issues raised and give ideas for our future.

Keeping Easter alive

by Kaze Gadaway

Five Native young adults from eighteen to twenty-one walk somberly up the aisle to receive the sacrament. Their hands hang comfortably by their sides and they proceed confidently to kneel at the front of the altar. They act like they belong. “This is so awesome,” one of the youth whisper. “Everyone here treats us like we should be here.”

It’s been a long journey. I remember when they first came to the youth group with heads down and not looking at anything too closely. For some this is the first time being in a Church building. For others they had been burned with the ‘in your face’ evangelism. Most had someone in the older generation who had taught them something about Native spirituality. Wariness is a mild description of their general attitude. They always made sure the exits were clear if they wanted to leave. They grudgingly responded to comments and questions. Unsure of how even to sit comfortably, they squirmed constantly. One youth who was invited by a friend told me a year later that “You had a Simpson cartoon on the TV when I came in the first time and that told me that this would be different. I kept coming back because we always had fun.”

So how did they change?

Their journey evolved sometimes with the help of some caring congregations and often in spite of those who are still focusing on replicating itself for the sake of its own members. Youth are not always valued, especially when they bring something new into the milieu.

We began by transporting them to a local Church service and having a traditional youth meeting after the services. That didn’t work at all. There was no interest.

We started meeting in smaller groups in homes, parks and cafes. Every time we met we tried something new until we found what worked for us. Being retired, I was able to keep my focus and spend a lot of energy for this group of at risk, unchurched Natives living in a border town of radical poverty that treats them with abuse and disdain.

1) We connected to the Native spiritual tradition and began having Native ceremonies alongside our Christian ones.
2) We took trips outside our local toxic situation to expose them to people who did not despise them on sight and to give them alternatives to their reduced future.
3) We sent them to National youth programs that opened them up to meeting diverse ethnic groups and discovering others with whom they could talk openly about their sacred experiences.
4) We found Churches that would welcome the Native youth and began to participate in their ceremonies. There are still not that many Churches who welcome them.
5) We created our own study curriculum that combined Native, Christian and youth elements.
6) We created our own worship service based on the Episcopal service but with adaptions.
7) Relationships were created slowly with the youth and their families and promises were kept.
8) And above all we learned how to pray and to recognize the sacred in all things by reflection and spiritual exercises.

Now we have forty two Native youth who want to be a part of something larger than small town dreams. There seems to be a lot of complaints from local parishes that they are losing members and yet are not willing to spend the personal effort it takes to develop spirituality in youth.

With the trend of cutting off national programs and leaving youth formation to dioceses, I am afraid of what is going to happen to these youth when I retire in one year and six months. Dioceses don’t have extra money for youth programs. And new youth programs will not be generated simply because they are not being supplied from somewhere else. In talking with other youth ministers we realize that many do not appreciate how influential National programs have been for youth in all ethnic groups.

I am guessing that with the present direction of the Church I will have to create the plan to provide spiritual formation for these youth when I leave.

The difficulty is that I have been a volunteer for almost twelve years who had the time to establish the relationships needed for this ethnic group. Since we are not on the diocesan budget, all funds have to be raised slowly through grants, family and friends. Since we are isolated in Northern Arizona in a town of 5,000 people and with no local priest, we drive long distances for Church services or for relevant youth activities or even traditional Native ceremonies. Something new has to come into being.

Creative discussions are taking place on house churches and alternative forms of community worship. That’s all good. But how do we not lose these awesome youth that are now on a roll who need mentorship? I refuse to let them be cut loose to find their own way and be lost back to an unviable environment of poverty and addiction.

The only suggestion made to me that show promise is to pair off each of the youth with someone in the larger Church who will agree to mentor and advise the young one on their continued spiritual journey. This will most likely be done on line. Perhaps once a year we can meet for a community gathering.

Another suggestion is to find Churches in different places who will sponsor a youth and spend time with him or her and give encouragement as needed.

I don’t know what is going to happen to other youth groups who will be vulnerable by this change. If they are from rich white Churches who have the money to have programs, they will endure for a while. If they are ethnic groups in isolated situations, I fear they will die out. Without programs that push the young ones to think Globally and not be stuck in the local situation, only those with financial resources will be able to get beyond their village.

My prayer is that there will continue to be enough people in the Church who care about the youth that they will help with creative approaches to keep youth formation alive in one fashion or another.

I pray that Easter may continue to be a reality in their lives.

Kaze Gadway has worked with the emerging leaders of the Episcopal Church within the Native American community of Northern Arizona as a volunteer for eleven years. They are youth of promise from ages twelve to twenty-four. The Spirit Journey Youth is an outreach program of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona with forty young people. She is on Facebook and blogs at infaith's posterous

Digital Disciple III: Deserted Islands

This is the third of three excerpts from Digital Disicple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World by Adam Thomas to be published May 2011 by Abingdon Press. You can purchase the book here.

By Adam Thomas

The new dimension of virtuality that the Tech has added to our lives has brought with it new locations, new situations, and yes, new opportunities and dangers. We are pioneers moving not along a riverbank in rickety covered wagons but along the virtual paths marked by cell towers and wi-fi hot spots. The lay of the land has changed, so to speak, and our new virtual environments are affecting us on multiple levels, which we will address over the course of this book. But before entering fully into our discussion of connection and isolation, we must address briefly the influence that the new frontier of the Tech has on our identity as social creatures.

To explore this influence, join me in a quick illustration. You attend a party; say, a company Christmas party. Spouses and children have been invited, so there’s a mix of generations milling about the lobby. On the buffet table sit cheese and crackers and one rather forlorn-looking vegetable tray. The eggnog comes in two varieties, one for grown-ups only. Bing Crosby croons softly over the PA system. Adults chat in that awkward way that always happens when home and work collide. One man’s laugh keeps rising over the low murmur in the room. Everyone attempts to avoid the mistletoe because that one creepy guy from the mailroom has claimed the territory underneath it.

Walking back from disposing of your paper plate and plastic cup, you notice a trio of people sitting on one of the lobby’s couches. A teenaged daughter of a middle manager, a graduate student doing her internship at the company, and a cubicle drone in his mid-thirties each occupy a cushion. But the cushions might as well be deserted islands for all the contact among the three of them. They sit facing forward, heads bowed. And all three are tap-tap-tapping away on their cell phones, completely disengaged from one another and from the conversations happening around them and from good old Bing dreaming of his white Christmas.

Ask yourself if you’ve ever seen this behavior. (Or perhaps, ask yourself if you’ve ever engaged in this behavior.) Now ask yourself if you think the three couch dwellers in the illustration are being antisocial. “Yes” is a perfectly acceptable answer: of course, they’re being antisocial. All those folks around talking, laughing, carrying on. So many conversations to join and eggnog bowls to hover around, and those three sit in a corner glued to their cell phones! Didn’t their parents raise them better?

If this is your reaction, I heartily agree with you, but take a moment to view the situation from another angle. Perhaps these three aren’t being antisocial. Perhaps they’re being (and I’m about to make up a word) trans-social. They may not be interacting with the bosses, employees, spouses, and creepy mailroom guys who inhabit the lobby during the Christmas party, but they are conversing with (possibly multiple) friends via text message. They are checking up on what their friends are doing and where they are doing it via Facebook and Twitter. They are being social—just not with the people close at hand.

At its broadest, trans-social behavior consists of socializing with people across a distance that makes face-to-face contact difficult. Of course, this has been around as long as there have been methods of delivering messages from one person to another: smoke signals, the Pony Express, and long correspondence like you find in Jane Austen novels. But as anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice knows, there’s an awful lot of anxious pacing around sitting rooms and garden paths during the excruciating period between letters. So beginning with telephone calls and eventually continuing with e-mails, the Tech added a dimension of immediacy to trans-social behavior. No more anxious pacing— just an upbeat “You’ve got mail” from a digital voice. With the advent of online social networking in the last decade, the Tech has combined this immediacy with widespread distribution, thus providing the infrastructure for trans-social behavior to explode.

Let’s turn back to our three trans-social folks and take a closer look. The teenager on Cushion One is updating her Facebook status with a rant about the creepy mailroom guy who keeps staring at her. The intern on Cushion Two is texting with three of her friends and showing remarkable aptitude for keeping all three conversations distinct. The cubicle drone on Cushion Three is selecting the starting lineup for his fantasy football game against the friend of a friend whom he has never met in person, but with whom he has been messaging spiritedly about the game on the league’s online forum.

The threesome sit on their respective islands, but it’s no matter that the islands are deserted because they have open lines of communication to distant friends. They may be isolated in the physical world, but in the virtual world they find connections that bridge the gaps between deserted islands. We’ll pick up the threads of connection and isolation in chapters 2 and 3; for now, let’s think for a moment about the environment that the Tech has redesigned and the people like me who have never known any other environment.

We older Millennials (along with the last few GenXers) began blogging before blogging was even a word. On websites including LiveJournal and MySpace, we poured out all the mundane secrets, petty jealousies, and terrible poetry that used to belong to the private diary under lock and key. In the past, none of those words would have seen the light of day, but the Internet enticed us to divulge these confidences with an artificial promise of phony anonymity. Then older folks started warning us about our tendency to overshare on the Interwebs. “If you put something online, it can never be fully removed,” they said. We adopted the appropriate shocked expressions until they went away, and then we joined Facebook and found a sleek new interface through which to bare our souls.

We extol the benefits of social networking: friends’ birthdays right there on our profiles, reconnection with that old high school crush, the ability to organize a flash mob to re-create the Thriller music video in the middle of the mall! But only in the last few years has the danger inherent in social networking begun to sink in: the inevitability of sexted nude photos winding up on the Internet, the ability for robbers to pick easy targets based on Facebook vacation updates, the omnipresence of cyberbullies online, and the data mining that follows every clicked link.

Social networking has enabled and amplified trans-social behavior to such a degree that all definitions of privacy are being rewritten. Until recently, private, direct, personal communication dominated; now it is giving ground to wide-spectrum, impersonal communication that may be private in nature but is public in disclosure. (Think about professional athletes who trash-talk over Twitter rather than on the field or court.) Indeed, the Internet is essentially a public place; however, to many of us Tech users, Millennials especially, it sure looks private because we interact with the Web while alone. For a Millennial blogger like me, I need to keep a personal journal in a physical spiral notebook just to be sure I keep myself from revealing things on my blog that aren’t appropriate for public consumption.

The Tech has designed this public-disguised-as-private environment, and Tech users interact socially in this environment. What should be an individual’s private identity often has public access enabled. The opportunities inherent in sharing socially across boundaries of distance are tempered by the dangers of ceding too much of oneself to the virtual world. Following Jesus Christ involves locating our identities first and foremost in the God who breathes those identities into our very souls. If we allow too much of our identities to escape into the ether of the virtual world, there may not be enough left to escape into God.

The Rev. Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the assistant to the rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Cohasset, Mass. He blogs at wherethewind.com.

Digital Disciple II: "Millennials," technology and the Church

This is the second of three excerpts from Digital Disicple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World by Adam Thomas to be published May 2011 by Abingdon Press. You can purchase the book here.

By Adam Thomas

As I view the intersections between connection and isolation, Tech culture and following Jesus, you should know that I make my observations from the perspective of a member of the first generation that has never known a world without the Internet. I’m a Millennial, one of the vanguard of the generation whose first members were born in 1982. As one of the eldest of the Millennials, I remember artifacts such as Prodigy and CompuServe, which lost the evolutionary battle to AOL. I remember when Napster was new and innovative and not at all threatening to the music industry. I remember when e-mail caught the attention of spellcheck.

But I don’t remember a time before http and www were more than just letters. I don’t remember my father owning a computer without a port for a phone cord. Ask younger members of the generation, and they won’t even realize that computers came with phone ports rather than Ethernet ones. My first cell phone was for emergencies only because it had a paltry fifteen minutes a month. (Don’t tell my dad, but most of my emergencies were of the pizza-ordering variety.) Younger Millennials have had cell phones since they were in elementary school. But from the eldest of us who remember the cretaceous period of dial-up to the youngest who were born with Bluetooth implants, we Millennials are dependent on the Tech, on all the gadgets and machines and Series of Tubes that connect us one to another and each to the world.

Of course, Millennials aren’t the only ones affected by the rise of the Internet and associated Tech. GenXers, Boomers, and computer-savvy older people like my grandmother feel the strong current of the Internet pulling them online just as much. As a Millennial, I have felt this current pulling me since I could reach the keyboard. As a follower of Christ, I feel God moving in both my virtual and my real lives. Knowing that these dual influences are neither mutually exclusive nor entirely compatible gives rise to a series of questions.

How do the Tech’s simultaneous forces of connection and isolation affect our walks with Christ? How does living in a virtual world influence living in both the physical and the spiritual ones? How do we maintain the body of Christ when the physical bodies we see and touch in church expand to include the virtual bodies we inhabit online? What place does prayer have in our instantaneous, Tech-driven world? Where do we keep our knowledge of God when our preferred method of storing information has shifted to the external? How do we resist isolation while remaining plugged into the Series of Tubes?

Now, I can speak only from my own experience. But I know that we humans are ineffective at arriving at the truth on our own, so I hope and pray that you will interact with my experience to delve more deeply into the truth revealed in Jesus Christ. Each of us has a call from God, each a ministry. Within each of the questions above, we find this fundamental one: How do we continue in the tradition of the personal nature of the ministry of Jesus in lives that are increasingly siphoned off into remote, disembodied, virtual space? I invite you to explore this question with me.

But first, you might be wondering why you should take what I say seriously. I claim neither special revelation from the Almighty nor a mandate from my generation. I’m just another disciple of Jesus Christ who has a few words to share with you. I endeavor to follow Christ wherever he leads me, but increasingly I find myself walking along the data streams and fiber-optic paths of the virtual world. Is it possible that Jesus might find me and I might find him on those virtual paths? Is it possible that God can use the Tech to create better followers of Jesus Christ? I am convinced that the answer is a resounding yes, but a yes stamped with a necessary warning label. Our Tech-driven world is changing rapidly, and we are changing with it. Unlike the great cloud of Christian witnesses that has pre- ceded us, we’re not simply earthbound, pavement-pounding disciples of Jesus Christ. The Tech has added a new dimension to our lives; we are physical, emotional, spiritual, and now virtual people. But I believe that God continues to move through every facet of our existence, and that makes us new kinds of followers. We are digital disciples.

The Rev. Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the assistant to the rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Cohasset, Mass. He blogs at wherethewind.com.

Pentecost, young adult ministry, and the journey through adulthood

By Kathy Staudt

I celebrated Pentecost this year at the church where I was confirmed 35 years ago, St. John’s, Northampton. I was back in town for my 35th reunion at Smith College, and so very available to thoughts of “then and now” and continuities and changes in myself. Their rector, relatively new, is a woman -- something that was just over the horizon when I was at Smith in the early 1970’s.

I do remember well the dedication and yearning of one woman in that group, a few years ahead of me, who aspired to be ordained an Episcopal priest - Cynthia Plum. (It’s a small church - so if there are readers out there who know her you can send her this.) I was an awkward dancer in the liturgical dance group she led, and we performed at St. John’s and elsewhere. Raised a Presbyterian, exploring Quaker practice and Transcendentalist walks around the pond on Sunday mornings, I was drawn into the Episcopal church by friends who invited me to come play the guitar, and by clergy who wondered whether I’d be willing to direct a youth choir there. When I think of myself then, I realize that I was beginning on the same journey that I’m still on: at Smith I awoke to the love of learning, and the desire for God -- and my life’s work has continued to center on bringing those yearnings together. But I think I grew most at that time, not only through study, but by watching how other adults, a little older than I, were putting it together. That was where my formation began.

The Episcopalians, it seemed to me at the time, had language that described my experience and my longings - and it was the language of liturgy, newly embodied in green and striped “trial service” books that the cradle Episcopalians around me had mixed feelings about. But I was right there: YES, Eucharist centered: Yes: “again and again, you called us to return,” and “open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world around us.” Some of the hymns were familiar, some of the prayers -- and I learned the whole of Rite I by learning to sing it as a Folk Mass.

There were liturgical controversies whose point I couldn’t even understand. But what I was mostly doing was watching adults using those words, apparently serious about their faith, and I was being invited, without yet really knowing what I believed, to be one of those adults, leading the children’s choir. Being invited, with others my age, to share stories, often in the context of a Bible study group, helped me see that the questions I had weren’t the only questions -- that we all had questions and it was good to ask them. We showed up -- sporadically perhaps, but as regularly as we could -- because this seemed important and we were trying to explain to ourselves why. But equally important was participating in the life of the congregation and seeing how “real” adults lived their faith -- participating in church life, raising their kids, serving at the altar, caring about this because it was important. Sunday mornings, church suppers, for someone away from home but raised in a church, made the place feel like “home.” I’m interested to hear that now St. John’s serves pancakes to Smith students in their undercroft during exam week -- They served almost 500 students this past year.-- continuing that tradition of offering hospitality first, but probably also quietly continuing to bring students into contact with ordinary, “normal” people who are trying to work out church life and lives of faith, whether the students are actively interested in that or not.

Thirty five years later, the parish looks healthy and alive. The Pentecost service blended old and new -- “Hail thee Festival Day” and “Every time I feel the spirit.” Rood screen and choir pews were gone, the sanctuary opened up, and green carpet removed to expose beautiful hardwood floors. So the space was a little different, but it still felt like a place that had been “home. “ Still a pipe organ and a vested choir, but also a hominess and informality -- “then” and “now” nicely connected. In keeping with the rubrics of the 1979 prayer book, the day featured a child’s and an adult baptism and also a service welcoming 13-year olds on the “Journey to Adulthood.”

This got me thinking: We invite the middle-schoolers on the “Journey to Adulthood.” But in our 20’s and 30’s, we are beginning, have begun, our journey through adulthood. In curriculum development, I think we tend to see Young Adult Ministry as a kind of extension of Youth Ministry. Usually the younger clergy member is put in charge of “Youth and Young Adult Ministry.” But in our twenties and thirties, aren’t we already beginning the process of adult formation that we hope will continue throughout our lives? I wonder whether it makes a difference to think of Young Adult ministry this way. I’d be interested in what Café readers think.

Who I am now, worshiping at St. John’s on Pentecost 2010, was very much continuous with who I was in the 1970’s when I was awakening to so much that the church helped me understand. My formation happened as much through the life and liturgy of the church, and interaction with older Christians, as it did through interaction with people my age. ( The same was true, actually, at the Episcopal Church at Yale when I was there -- where the lives and explorations of older grad students and our clergy were a source of insight for me-- an opening to the way ahead. This may have been “just me,” but I don’t think so.) The mentoring and the example of older adults involved in church life was really important; and it seems to me that argues for inviting people in their 20’s and 30’s to participate in the existing church structure in every way we can, even as we also try to assemble groups in the same age and stage of life for fellowship and study. The mentoring is as important as the peer group. But we have to treat our “twentysomethings” like fellow adults - not as oversize “young people.”

There’s also a piece here about ritual and sacrament, which is what drew me to the Episcopal Church, and what I think we still offer, perhaps uniquely, to seekers in their 20s and 30s. Getting confirmed at age 22 was certainly “on target” developmentally for me: it was my way of claiming something about my identity and my path in life, of saying: “This is one part of the way I want to do life. This is the tradition I want to turn to for help in answering life’s big questions.” The ritual of confirmation was important to me. It was a way of launching my adult life of faith, claiming a path publicly, and saying: "Here I have found something real. Call it God, call it the voice of my truest self, call it koinonia/community." I was glad I hadn’t been confirmed at 14 in the Episcopal church because this rite remained available to me..

I had of course already been baptized as an infant, in an active Presbyterian family. In this generation, far fewer young adults have been baptized -- and as we renewed our baptismal covenant, at St. John’s on Pentecost this year, I found myself wondering whether there is an opportunity in the fact that Baptism is a rite available to those who have not been baptized as infants. Could adult Baptism could become a more widespread way of claiming faith identity, and the intention to try living this Way? The language of the Baptismal Covenant does reflect the kinds of decisions we are exploring, as we begin the journey through adulthood . But how often do we present it that way, to young adults? What if Baptism, or a renewal of Baptismal covenant, were to become a new and identifiable step available to people choosing an “adult” life of faith, without having been raised in a community that would have baptized them? Perhaps this is already happening: perhaps there will be a resurgence of “believers’ baptisms” in Episcopal churches in the next generation. That could be interesting.

In any case, I’m beginning to think that Young Adult ministry, and the claiming of Christian identity that has been part of it, is actually more properly thought of as the beginning of adult formation, the first unit, perhaps, in the “Journey Through Adulthood” that is lifelong formation. I wonder what difference it would make to think about Young Adult ministry in this way?

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

The teacher's way of wisdom and innovation

By Donald Schell

With my first step on the Aikido dojo’s practice mat twenty-eight years ago, I knew I was declaring my willingness to become a teacher. That is, I knew that by investing patience and regular practice from that day forward, I would earn a black belt, and a black belt signifies a teacher. And “teacher” means continuing to learn, as my first teacher said, ‘When you earn your black belt, you will be ready to begin learning.’ The Aikido saying echoes Suzuki Roshi’s wisdom in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

For twenty-nine of my thirty-eight years as an Episcopal priest, weekday church work has followed dawn practice in an aikido dojo, throwing and being thrown in a playful, energetic, sometimes frightening, always enlivening moving meditation. Gently and persistently Aikido has shown me something I didn’t see before in the Gospels and in the work of our church - our Christian tradition asks you and me to become rabbis in Jesus’ mold, teachers of teachers in training.

Eastern teacher traditions (like Ai-ki-do and Zen-do and others that call themselves a way, that is a ‘-Do’ or ‘Tao’) often speak of the process of passing on the practice as ‘transmission.’ In Christian practice, more typically we speak of ‘tradition.’ Both words point to ongoing creative engagement between beginners and more seasoned practitioners, and between older and younger generations.

Processes of ‘transmission’ or ‘tradition’ teach by demonstration - seeing and imitation, specifically mindful imitation, and reflective learning. What I see now in the Gospels is how Jesus’ tradition-ing brings the wisdom of our remembered and still living past into direct dynamic encounter with the passion and fresh demands of the present moment. Both past and present are changed in that encounter.

Last winter here in the Café I wrote about the false dichotomy our church falls into whenever we use ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ as polar opposites. I return to that theme a year later because I feel daily how that false dichotomy impoverishes us, fractures inter-generational learning and works to separate wisdom (the humble, ‘I wonder’ version of experience) from fresh energy and insight.

In ongoing extensive research on what he first named ‘communities of practice,’ Etienne Wenger reports that traditional crafts and trades KNEW crucial innovation was likeliest to happen in the daily interchange between senior apprentices and their supervising journeymen. Where a craft or trade actually has such a person as a ‘master,’ that person isn’t the one we should look to for noticing, blessing, and developing the accidental discoveries that learners are making.

Wenger’s observation is similar to Suzuki Roshi honoring the gift of ‘beginner’s mind,’ but Wenger’s slightly different framing should challenge the church uncomfortably. A culture of experts and novices or professionals and amateurs encourages neither tradition nor innovation. In vibrant communities of practice, tradition, or the transmission of knowledge, is a creative act. Consider what the word ‘lay’ or ‘laity’ means outside church talk - “Amateur, inept, or inexpert, not professional.” How did we do that? How can church thrive unless tradition and innovation feed each other? And who needs to share authority in that interchange?

Let’s put the dilemma differently: Jesus our teacher models for us that the real master, like an advanced journeyman, continues to learn and delights to engage with other learners. The most advanced learner makes the best teacher because that learner, whether called ‘black belt,’ journeyman, master, rabbi, teacher, or presbyter/elder, while confident of experience, also knows that she or he will always have more to learn. And the most advanced learner understands most deeply that ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘mistakes’ of the stumbling apprentice may fall into something new, fresh or essential to the work.

Aikido helped me see how Jesus (in the synoptic Gospels) invites his disciples and listeners to join him in an inquiry. Jesus presents himself and teaches as a journeyman teaching advanced apprentices. The Gospels show him learning alongside learners and his listeners into inquiry with him.

Imposing a ‘know it all’ Jesus on the Gospels numbs our ear to his real questions.

When our Teacher of teachers in training asks, ‘What parent among you, if your child asked for bread, would give that child a stone?’ he asks a real question with more than one possible answer. Our Teacher asking this question knows that some parents make frightening and damaging choices. His next question pushes on toward the threat asking, ‘what parent among you, if your child asked for an egg would offer a scorpion?’

Yes, there’s something dreadfully wrong when the parent hands a child a scorpion, but it does happen. When some flinch to call God ‘father’ (or ‘mother’) from dark memories of a dangerous, abusing parent, can we help them see and hear our Teacher’s courageous reflection on mixed experience pushes us to specifics. God isn’t simply ‘father’ or simply ‘mother.’ We have to ask ‘what kind of mother/father?’

The Teacher pushes our inquiry onward. ‘Abba,’ Jesus’ name for God our father, is far more specific than a conventional distillation of cultural norms of ‘appropriate’ parental behavior in his or any other time. The forgiving father in the parable of the prodigal son models unrestrained loving mercy that breaks the bounds of culturally endorsed patriarchal dignity. These parables, the pair of sayings about hungry children asking for food, and the story of the wayward, wanton child coming home, touch something deeper than pretending ‘we’re all always good parents,’ and wiser and more loving than ‘remember to act appropriately.’ Teaching traditions, the traditions that engage beginning learners with more advanced learners (and Jesus does cast himself as a learner) create new, fresh authority for even recent beginners, the authority of actual experience, real questions, and struggling to make sense of the contradictions we know in life.

‘Because I’m the rector,’ that killing refrain of tightly-held authority has no place in a teacher tradition. Yes, sometimes canons and good sense demand that a bishop or a rector or music director or Sunday School teacher or senior warden or other designated leader make a decision to mark the end of a conversation, declare a consensus or hark back to an essential, central principle or practice. BUT whenever any of us refuses to offer a clue of why it was time for us to resolve so we can act together we turn from learning (and discernment) to magisterial rule. Teacher traditions must sometimes trust leaders to distill vision and resolve community conflict, but teacher traditions keep looking for learning moments even in those times of resolution.

At 63, I’m very, very grateful for my thirty-eight years of work as a presbyter in our church, and the signs of life in our church feel me with hope and joy. But my heart breaks for clergy and lay friends of my generation who wonder how they’ve spent their life, what difference their work in the church has made, and lament a “dying church.” Of course our church is dying. Things what had grown old are being made new. Depressed pessimism, as though the Spirit were ready to abandon the church, is the older generation’s side of the crisis of 21st century Christianity’s traditioning.

Christian faith and practice have a future, possibly even a rich future. But boomers’ habits of leadership have broken the natural flow that gives real authority and autonomy to a next generation. Interestingly the ‘contemporary’ half of the contemporary/traditional dichotomy seems as much a baby-boomer artifact as the ‘traditional’ half. Neither one is what it says.
Our church (yes our ‘dying mainline’ Episcopal church) has great young leaders, lay and ordained bringing fresh vision and passion to building Christian community, to loving Jesus, to serving and learning in his name to give simple and abundant thanks that the Spirit is certainly at work.

Our present moment (like all present moments) asks of us wisdom that continues to learn and passion that is eager to do work, seasoned, grateful elders and passionate younger leaders listening to one another, working together to synthesize what we have learned and know, what we are asking, and what the Spirit is asking of us now.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is
President of All Saints Company.

What I learned at MIT

By Amy McCreath

This is my last semester as Episcopal Chaplain at MIT. After nine years for which I am outrageously thankful, it is simply time for me to move on to whatever God has in store for me next (which is TBA -- a good lesson in trust.). The corridors of a world-class engineering school is a fascinating vantage point from which to watch for the Holy Spirit. So before I go, I want to share some of the most important things I’ve learned at MIT.

Matter matters: I slid through the science requirement in college by taking botany and social psychology. Not my thing, or so I thought. MIT students steadied my gaze on the outrageous beauty and mystery of the material world. From the night sky to neutrinos to the laws of physics, the MIT crowd have an innate cosmic sacramentality, and the ones I love have a passion for using “stuff” to do peace and justice in ways abstract theories can’t touch. As an example, read about the tremendous Amy Smith.

The merits of meritocracy: At MIT, no one cares what you look like, where you grew up, or who your father is. It’s all about one thing: Can you help us solve a problem? Now, there are theological problems with this rather utilitarian ethic, but compared to most communities I’ve encountered, and many corners of the church I’ve passed through, it has been refreshing. And it has kept me on my toes, as resting on laurels or credentials or personal charm is simply undoable at the ‘Tute.

In the footsteps of St. Anskar: Campus ministry is mission work, pure and simple. That is increasingly true, as a smaller percentage than ever of the students grew up with any religious practice. And because the public face of Christianity during the lifetimes of most of today’s students has been largely strident and self-righteous, the students who do affiliate with our ministry are reticent to come out as Christians on campus because of what their friends would (wrongly) assume about them. I am so thankful to have learned in seminary that blessed St. Anskar, missionary to Scandinavia, had his first convert after 36 years of work. It has helped me keep going, feel like I'm actually doing pretty well, and see my work as part of a worthy tradition.

How to identify left-brained prayers: Engineers pray best without words. They build flood warning systems in river basins in Honduras, to save lives in real time. They make furniture out of used boxes and whip up a nice offertory-collection basket out of a piece of paper during the peace (see photo). Physicists pray in labs, giddy with amazement at the workings of the world, and computer scientists pray by creating networks to help students in the developing world get a good education in the face of poverty and restricted freedoms. Read about the IDEAS competition, where outlandish prayers take flight. (http://web.mit.edu/ideas/www/)

The trickiest problems are non-technical: Early in my time at MIT, I attended the memorial service of a graduate student who had taken his own life. He was known and loved all over campus – a genius and a truly beautiful person. He had eaten Christmas dinner with me and the brothers at SSJE in Cambridge just months before. But he had carried inside wrenching turmoil as he tried to reconcile his own dreams with the hopes of his family. He could not reason or engineer his way out of this inner knot. In the following years, at times when I was tempted to think that what I had to offer was not enough or not relevant, when I was tempted to be intimidated by the Nobel prizes and the cutting edge research and the fancy labs where they were working on things I could not pronounce, I remembered this young man. And I kept going, kept speaking, kept offering what I could.

No apologies: an apology: My nine years at MIT was Time Well-Spent. That is so clear to me, despite comments I’ve gotten periodically from clergy colleagues who say things like “When are you going to move up the food chain?” (Not kidding). As a chaplain, I had to recreate leadership every year, do the same programs over and again as our congregation kept walking off in mortar boards, give 100% to both my diocese and the Division of Student Life. It was pretty humbling being “the priest of one religion in the temple of another,” as one of my predecessors put it. But I leave wiser, amazed, and blessed.

The Rev. Amy McCreath is the Episcopal chaplain and coordinator of the Technology and Culture Forum at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is a member of the Council of Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission.

What young adults need

By Otis Gaddis III

In previous postings, I have argued that forward movement on LGBT issues is essential for creating the environment in which we can effectively engage young adults. As the final passage of D025 by the House of Deputies indicates, The Episcopal Church is making progress in doing the hard work of revealing ourselves as accurate reflectors of the message of Christ. But it is important to understand that making the Church a safe place for LGBT people is only the beginning. That movement simply opens the door for young adults by signally that the Church is a safe place for the authentic development of one’s personhood. In order to get people to actually move through the door, we must seriously begin to develop the competency of not only being safe but of actively fostering that authentic personal development.

In the post-modern world, which is the only world young adults have ever known, the central question is the search for an authentic self. Post-modernism as a philosophy teaches that everything is influences by everything else and thus nothing is of itself, nothing is truly autonomous. In a culture that values the authentic individual, the result of this understanding of reality is that one many not have a true self to find. One is left adrift in a swirl of commercial, ideological, and institutional forces, none of which can be trusted and none of which can be “authentically” resisted.

In this emerging narrative of the self as utterly socially constructed and produced by outside sources, LGBT people provide a useful counterpoint. LGBT people point to the possibility of an authentic self that cannot be suppressed by therapy, law, or even religion. That authentic self is revealed by the persistence of desire. And it is authentic desire, passion, and longing that young adults really want to find. In asking the question “who am I?” young adults increasingly believe that can found by asking “what do I really want?” It is for this reason that LGBT persons are (welcome) social metaphors of authenticity. They represent the possibility of an authentic self “discovered,” revealed in the light of one’s persistent passions, passions that come from within.

Thus, in a post-modern worldview, the existence of LGBT people speaks to the possibility of an authentic self underneath all of the layers of social construction and linguistic mediation, and thus reconstitutes the possibility of something given, something from God. If one’s passions for erotic partnership are responsive to a particular gender and that is a given in one’s self then what other kinds of desires are a given? What about life vocation and purpose? What about one’s values? What about the kind of spiritual practices best suit one? In other words the possibility of an authentic sexual orientation, gender identity or range of gender expressions begs the question what other parts of our self we can also discover through our desires, what else can we authentically be. And those are the kinds of questions most young adults are swimming in right now. Do we have a safe harbor for them? I think we do.

As Christians we can boldly say that the internal passions that lead to an articulation of LGBT identity point to the reality that human beings are made in the image of God and that image has a core that cannot be fully suppressed. Indeed, that core divine spark, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our being breathed into us at the Creation, is revealed in our deepest desires just as someone’s sexuality is revealed inductively by one’s erotic desires. Thus, as Christians, we would contend that the core of our humanity that the existence of LGBT people are bearing witness to is none other than the reflection of Christ, refracted through our unique personalities formed in our social contexts. Just as the Church should be a safe place for LGBT people to come out, so also it must be a safe place for people to come out as authentic persons, that is, as reflections of Christ and live into that authentic identity.

When we place the Gospel in the language of authentic personal development, we understand that bringing people to Christ to be the process of helping people express the special and unique way they are a reflection of Christ. This process, Christian Formation, is about creating the environment and providing the tools for people to mature “into the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). As the Church, our theory is that one’s authentic self is found in Christ and that one’s attributes and identity markers are a means of expressing that Christ nature in ways that can help other people express theirs. To paraphrase Rev. Dr. Michael Battle, our identities are not for ourselves but for others. As Christians we are to draw out Christ in each other’s personalities through our unique way of being like Christ, to reveal in each other that we are what we eat: The Body of Christ, the Gifts of God for the People of God.

When we delve deeper into the metaphysics of what we are talking about here, we can see that taking seriously the existence of LGBT people the context of a post-modern worldview requires having a different conception of evangelism. If there is an authentic self and that authentic self is a given (in spite of what post-modernism asserts) and finally that authentic self is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the human being longing to grow that person into the full stature of Christ, then our way of doing evangelism and Christian Formation changes. Instead of a Calvinist project that assumes that people are “totally depraved” have nothing in them that longs for God, and thus we (who have God) must supply God to them, we have an Anglican project which assumes God is already present, in the authentic self of the person, and our job is to evoke that authentic self to the surface and help it “come out” in a world that is hostile to living an authentic life: a life lived for others, a life lived with God, a life lived liked Christ’s.

If evoking the passions of the Divine Spark in someone is now the goal of evangelism, then listening becomes the most important skill in doing evangelism. We now are listening to the core passions of others and then try to create spaces in our Church for people to live out those passions in a way that helps reveal themselves to themselves.

A practical example of this kind of evangelism is The Diocese of Massachusetts’ Relational Evangelism Project administered by Rev. Arrington Chambliss. This program offers a year long young adult service project (part of the Episcopal Service Corp) that trains young adults in community organizing skills (one-on-ones, discerning community needs through active listening, leadership development etc.) and then attaches them to congregations and chaplaincies. They then create spaces inside those church structures that match the passions of those outside of them.

For example, are there people who have a passion to express in song and poetry they dreams for their neighborhood and that nation? Through community organizing offer the local Episcopal Church as a gathering place for such artists and work along side them to create the space that they want. As they offer their hospitality, creating space, for the expression of their artistic passions these relational evangelists are able to reveal in normal conversation their own core passions and how through them they found in Christ an authentic archetype of themselves, someone to whom they closer they get the more of their authentic selves they discover.

And the great thing is that the Relational Evangelism Project is working. Last year was its pilot year. This year they are doubling the number of young adult relational evangelists. The young adults and their work sites are prayerfully assigned and they live in intentional Christian community during the year. Of course, when you look deeper you can see that for the young adult relational evangelists, this project is itself a space that allows them to live out their passions to serve in the name of Christ, a place to actualize a passion for Christ that has developed into a desire to be a public embodied witness. They are discovering that by living into their passion to be witnesses of Christ they are becoming more aware of their own authentic person.

Now, this kind of evangelism works by eventually inviting people into a process of Christian Formation, a space where people can interact with the received wisdom of the Christian Tradition in perceiving and discerning their own passions, thereby making Christianity a helpful path to self knowledge and an authentic way of being.

If who people truly are can be accessed by looking to what people truly desire, then spiritual discernment becomes the gateway to Christian Formation. This is especially true for young adults who are seeking to discover our authentic selves so that we may begin to live into ourselves in earnest. And when one really starts to listen to young adults it become apparent that there are themes that keep coming up where spiritual discernment is necessary: personal values discernment, vocation discernment, partnership discernment. Furthermore, we need to be able to grow in theses various discernments in the context of authentic Christian fellowship of both peers and mentors. These three themes are probably preoccupations for young adults no matter where they are in the country. Thus, it behooves the Church to at least create spaces within the church that address these needs for spiritual discernment.

Of course, young adults will be suspicious that institutions that offer to assist us in discovering ourselves are simply trying to conform us to their own agenda. One of the greatest examples of this kind of experience has been that of LGBT people in anti-LGBT religious environments. In those environments, the answers to the question “who am I and what do I want” was answered for people in a way that prevented them from actually being authentic people.

Fortunately, our work on supporting LGBT in being authentic people signals to others that we can do that work with them as well. But we must follow through. We must offer the spiritual wealth of the Church in a manner not unlike how a one would offer a pallet of oil colors to a painter so that she can express herself on the canvass. We can offer to show how to use the brush (our ways of accessing God) while encouraging young adults to be free to paint what comes to them (that is to express what they perceive to be the authenticity of their lives). What we find when people experience spirituality as a path to freedom and accurate self-understanding people begin to come alive. And as Saint Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”

An instance of offering spiritual discernment as a lens to access Christian Tradition is a class on spiritual discernment for young adults that has been happening at my parish of Saint Mark’s Capitol Hill during on Wednesdays this month. Led by Prof. Katherine Staudt, the class began with the help people articulate when they are the most passionate both in what they do an in what they want for the world. From there, she offers a series of Christian spiritual disciplines gleaned from the core of the Christian monastic and contemplative traditions to help people discern God’s authentic call to them in their passions. The class has maintained a good balance of peer conversation and instructive lecture allowing young adults to find their own voice. In the class, you could feel how excited people were as they explored who they were in Christian community. For us, our spirituality, our Christianity, was working for us on a very practical level. And that is what young adults really want.

As we start clearing away the barriers that have been keeping people out of our Church we must also do the work of making the Church a place where people are not only safe spiritually but grow spiritually. When that happens, people are transformed and they will get excited and they will want to be witnesses to that they have experienced. Creating that environment for growth is deeply connected to the work we have been doing on LGBT issues. It is through that work that the church as an institution is starting to intentionally respond to the post-modern world that now surrounds us. The fact that we are one of the first denominations to “get it” on LGBT stuff means that we are much, much closer to getting what young adults really want and how to offer them the gospel in their social context. Right now we are focusing on how we include LGBT people in the life of the Church, but as I have suggested in this article, as we theologically and philosophically contemplate what it means that we desire to fully including LGBT people, we will also begin to access new ways of seeing the world that will give us a leg up for evangelism and Christian Formation in our emerging social context. And that is exciting.

Otis Gaddis III is a lawyer and young adult minister at Saint Mark’s Capital Hill in Washington D.C. A postulant from the Diocese of Washington, he will be attending Yale Divinity School this Fall.

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General Convention, Young Adults, and Mission

By Otis Gaddis III

Increasingly I am convinced that this General Convention could unleash the great potential the Episcopal Church has to effectively reach the unchurched and dechurched in the United States. I was drawn to come here because I wanted to be part of the story of that transformation of potential energy into kinetic energy. My passion is for evangelism, and particularly evangelism to young adults. It is a passion that inspired me to start a young adult group at my parish of Saint Mark’s Capital Hill, to do organizing work in my diocese in support of young adult ministry and recently to seek ordination as an Episcopal priest. And it is that passion that inspired me to come to General Convention with Integrity, the national fellowship for LGBT Episcopalians.

There is a very serious link between our capacity to do effective work with young adults and where we are on affirming lesbian and gay people as equal members of the Church. I think it is necessary to place the work of this General Convention in the context of how young adults view the relationship between an institution’s understanding and treatment of lesbian and gay people and its moral legitimacy.

In 1999 Eugene Rogers published a book entitled Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way into the Triune God which offered a Christian defense of gay marriage by claiming that the purpose of Christian marriage was the sanctification of Christian couples through the performance of a lifelong embodied spiritual covenant. From that premise, Rogers argued that marriages of Christian gay couples cannot be justifiably excluded, on Christian grounds, from Christian marriage. The assumption of the book is that the reader is comfortable with the moral legitimacy of Christianity but is questioning what if any place gay people’s marriages have in the Church.

But a decade later the situation is radically different, especially for young adults. People are becoming much more supportive of gay rights generally and marriage equality specifically. Among young adults (those who are 18-34), 58 percent believe in full marriage equality. The trend in favor of marriage equality for college age adults is even stronger. As of 2008, 66% of college frosh supported marriage equality. In other words, the younger you go the higher the chance that a person views gay people as equal to everyone else.

And this shift is starting to change attitudes and perceptions of what is morally legitimate. An entire generation of people is coming of age where they are much more confident in the equality of their lesbian and gay friends than they are about the moral legitimacy of institutions and people who are against gay people. In other words, many of these same young adults see one’s views concerning marriage equality as a litmus test of the morality of social institutions including churches.

To get a handle on the impact of this sea change, consider what happens in contemporary life when someone declares that they are a racist. Now, most people do not take seriously that racism could be a legitimate worldview; instead that person who reveals herself as a racist has actually simply declared herself to be an immoral person. She has said much more about herself than whatever negative view she may have about another race or ethnic group. The same thing is now happening on the issue of gay rights and marriage equality among an ever increasing majority of young adults. Saying one is anti-gay really is the same as declaring that one is an immoral person. To claim, as so many are doing, that one must continue to be an immoral person because Christianity mandates that one be anti-gay does not legitimate the immorality but simply implicates Christianity as an immoral worldview that should therefore be distrusted, criticized or outright rejected. What needs to be understood is that a substantial and increasing number of young adults judge Christianity through the lens of justice for gay and lesbian people rather than judging the value of gay and lesbian people in the light of a homophobic social code that dons the mantle of Christianity. This dynamic occurs even when anti-gay people claim to be the only “orthodox” representatives of Christianity.

The devastating effect of asking people to choose between being a good Christian and being a good person is revealing itself in recent polling of young adults.

According to a study reported, in September 2007, by the Barna Group, a well respected evangelical polling group, 40 percent of young adults (ages 16-29) did not identify as Christians, a substantial increase from previous generations. When they inquired as to young non-Christians’ perceptions of Christianity they found that “a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a ‘good impression’ of Christianity” (emphasis added).

So what has been happening over the last decade that could possibly have cause this shift? Although I am sure that it is a combination of factors, it is clear form the report that American Christianity’s reputation as the primer source of anti-gay activism is one of the most important causes as indicated in the same Barna Group study which says, “Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is ‘anti-homosexual.’ Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity” (emphasis added). Keep in mind that the majority of young adults believe in marriage equality.

In other words, non-Christians may not know much about what we believe about Jesus, the path to salvation, or what we believe God desires of us in our relationships with others. But what they do know is that we are anti-gay.

What this practically means for someone like me, a 29 year old, who regularly strikes up spiritual conversations with other young adults in the gym, my local café, at bars, and well basically anywhere, one of the first things I encounter is the other person’s belief that the Church is anti-gay. This is especially true if they have at least some college education. As a black gay man, I am usually able to remove that barrier by saying “I am gay and I am a Christian; in fact I am Episcopalian.” After explaining the positive experience I have had in my parish, the person is usually not only more favorable but now curious as to what this “Episcopal Church” is like. My ability to point to out gay bishops and to gay people being married in my church radically distinguishes the Episcopal Church in the minds of young adults in a positive way.

Of course, since most Episcopalians are not gay, they cannot vouch for the Church without proof. One has to be able to show that a reasonable gay person would actually feel comfortable and affirmed in the Episcopal Church in order to rebut the presumption that the Episcopal Church is just like other anti-gay churches. Their ability to point to out and married gay bishops and to gay people being married in the church would equip the vast majority of straight Christians to radically distinguish the Episcopal Church in the minds of non-Christian young adults in a positive way.

As people begin to really study young adult views of Christianity and how gay and lesbian people fit into that story, I think we will find that young adults are not rejecting Christianity simply because it is perceived as anti-gay but that they are viewing gay people as the canary in the mine. Culturally, the gay experience has become a metaphor for the journey of self-discovery and a willingness to be true to one’s self in spite of persecution. And this is what young adults are, in part, looking for spiritually, places where they can connect to their true selves. If we listen they might tell us, “If a place is not only safe for gay people but is affirming of them, then perhaps it will be safe for me. Perhaps, I will be affirmed by this spiritual community when I find myself. Maybe this community is capable of helping me get there.”

It is perhaps because of this logic that Bishop Gene Robinson’s speech yesterday in the Exhibit Hall was so powerful. During his speech he spoke about the anxiety of some people that the Episcopal Church will be identified as “the gay Church.” He responded to that anxiety by saying, “You bet! We are the church for gay people, women, people of color, people in wheelchairs, the mentally ill, for everyone.” As he explained that the Episcopal Church is the Church of God’s Inclusive Love, I could feel an energy in the crowd, and energy of realization. The woman next to me, who I believed to be straight, told me, “I feel a chill up my spine, when I hear this.” I replied, “I know, it is like we are finally going to be a Christian Church.” She nodded, “Yes, that is what this is about, that is what this is about.” My feeling is that we were not the only people who were feeling that our own capacity to witness to God’s love, as Episcopalians, was what was at stake in this conversation about the place of LBGT people in the Church.

Otis Gaddis III is a lawyer and young adult minister at Saint Mark’s Capital Hill in Washington D.C. A postulant from the Diocese of Washington, he will be attending Yale Divinity School this Fall.

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Catch and release

By Amy McCreath

I hate June. Last week, I stood with the other MIT chaplains on the side of the street the Class of 2009 will march along on their way to Killian Courtyard, where they will patiently listen to a string of dignitaries, and even more patiently file one-by-one (all 2,500 of them!) onto the platform to receive their diplomas. We chaplains share a few Dunkin’ Donuts while we wait for the parade, then we wave and cheer for the students we know as they walk past us. “Good job, Kari!” “Way to go, Andre!” I am smiling and waving, joking with my colleagues, tossing back munchkins. But I’ll tell you a secret: it feels like the apocalypse.

I promise you that I am thrilled for the graduates. They have worked so hard, overcome enormous obstacles, grown tremendously as people, set lofty goals and achieved them. They will leave here with amazing skills and most of them will make the world a better place through their vocations as scientists and engineers. Most of those who participated in our ministry here will bless congregations elsewhere with their leadership, their faith, their integrity. It’s all good.

But they are leaving. And I will miss them so very much. I am so thankful for my time in community with them. Those who participated in our ministry here each added a particular gift to it. As they march by this morning, I remember moments, emails, stories, performances. There goes the beautiful, brilliant physicist, who discovered a love for Christian mysticism through a lunch-time discussion for women. There goes the one with whom I co-led a program for lbgt students on how to respond to hate speech, which turned out to be one of the most tender, spiritual conversations I’ve ever experienced. There goes the one who sent me an email after Lessons and Carols one Advent, saying he’d stayed up all night after the service reading the Gospel of Matthew, and for the first time he thought this story might have something to do with his life. There goes the one who anonymously paid for two other students who wanted to go on retreat but couldn’t afford it. Goodbye, everyone.

For campus ministers, the summer feels like an extended version of that period between the Ascension and Pentecost; we stand and watch as the students we knew and loved for several years are taken up in a swirl of black academic gowns. We have the promise of something to come -- the Class of 2013! Now it is for us to spend the whole summer trusting that God will do a new thing, will send souls who will want to learn, pray, share stories, serve others, and be a community in Christ here in this place. It is a very long Ascensiontide.

I’ve been through this cycle seven times already. Every June, there is a moment when I think, “Why don’t I find a ministry that doesn’t require recruiting and training up an entirely new group of leaders every year? Why don’t I find a community where people don’t come and go constantly?” When I was a child, I had a book called “Amy Loves Goodbyes.” It wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now.

But I’m still here. And although it’s emotionally draining, I think it’s actually been a blessing to go through this cycle again and again. I’ve learned something about what ministry is for. We are called to fish for people. We haul them in, not for ourselves, not for the fulfillment of our little projects or the ordering of our fractures lives, but for Christ. And if the New Testament tells us anything about following Christ, it is that it means being on the road constantly. It is on the road where we bless and are blessed.

It’s catch and release, catch and release.

So the Class of 2009 walks out of Killian Court today and into their futures. Those who were part of our ministry here will walk on to be Christ for other people on other shores. And I, too, will be on the road again, waiting and watching for the Holy Spirit to blow together a new community which will be a new blessing in ways I can’t predict or control.

The Rev. Amy McCreath is the Episcopal chaplain and coordinator of the Technology and Culture Forum at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is a member of the Council of Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission

The Church and young adults: out of sight, out of mind

By Amy McCreath

Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?

People: We will.

Raise your hand if you heard these words at an Easter service recently. OK, that’s over half of you, I bet. These words are taken, of course, from the rite for Holy Baptism, and in many congregations, baptisms are celebrated in the midst of Easter Vigils, in accord with ancient custom.

Raise your hand if you meant what you said when you answered “We will.”

Great. Good for you. But what did you mean? How will you support these persons in their life in Christ, and for how long? Does your obligation mean volunteering to teach Church School regularly? Does it mean contributing financially to the diocesan summer camp they attend? What about after they are confirmed – Will you continue to do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ then? How about when they are off at college or graduate school?

For the past eight years, I’ve been blessed to work with college students, many of whom grew up in Episcopal or Lutheran congregations around the US and Canada. The good news is that, in general, they are hungry for deeper faith, chasing after God with undefended hearts, and thrilled for whatever opportunities the church offers them to learn and to lead. The other news is that the congregations in which they were baptized generally have done nothing to “support them in their life in Christ” since they were confirmed (often at the tender age of twelve or thirteen) and very rarely do anything to help them connect with a faith community when they leave home. I think this is a big problem. I want to tell you why and start a conversation about how to address it.

The folks who study developmental psychology and spiritual development have been telling us for years that late adolescence and early adulthood are critical times for establishing personal identity, probing faith commitments, and developing what Sharon Daloz Parks calls “worthy dreams.” They also tell us that having a “mentoring community” makes all the difference for how successfully one navigates the challenges of this inner work. A mentoring community is a group that helps a person sort through his or her questions and experiences, providing a healthy balance of challenge and support as they work towards a more mature, authentic personal faith. It can be a college chaplaincy, a parish, a Bible study group, a service corps, a summer camp staff, or any number of things; the key thing is that it happens and they can find it.

Now here’s something really interesting: Recent research shows that this work of finding faith and developing worthy dreams now extends well into a person’s twenties. The average age at which people marry and start families has risen in recent decades. Getting through college and graduate school takes longer than it used to. Hardly anyone get a job with a major corporation at the age of 21 and stays put forever anymore. Most people in their twenties haven’t made the transitions historically associated with “adulthood.” (If you want to know more about this phenomenon, read Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s excellent book, Emerging Adulthood.) My observation as a chaplain is that this leaves a lot of graduate students wandering about, unsure where to find community, who to turn to for the mentoring and development of life skills they yearn for, and afraid to walk into churches where, they assume, people have “figured things out.”

When late adolescents and young adults do connect with communities of faith, they milk them for all they are worth: they get involved, ask questions, volunteer, and make lots of (usually excellent) suggestions about how the church can get address injustices in the world. When they don’t connect with communities of faith, they put aside their questions and yearnings and focus on other things, usually their academic and social lives. As Tim Clydesdale explains in a great on-line article, they will “stow their (often vague) religious and spiritual identities in an identity lockbox,” stick the lockbox on a metal shelf, and only return to it after college or graduate school.

We too often assume that if a young adult is not participating in a faith community, it is on purpose. We assume they have made a conscious decision not to connect. Or they have been “turned off” by something. That does happen, of course, but a lot of times, our assumptions are unfounded. Often they simply did not see us. There’s a man who attends the same church I do on Sundays who is an MIT graduate. He asked me one day how long there has been an Episcopal ministry at MIT. I told him it went back to the mid 1950s. “You mean it was there when I was a student there?” he said with astonishment. Turns out, he lived in the dormitory located directly across the street from the Chapel. But he never noticed the sign outside the Chapel listing our services, never saw the posters for our services, and was never personally invited to an event. “I would have loved to have been involved! How I needed it then!” he said with regret.

The students who do find chaplaincies or parishes while they are at college often were referred to them by their priest back home. Here I want to give a shout out to the bishops of the Diocese of Connecticut, who actively assist the parishes in their diocese in getting young people connected to faith communities when they go to college. And they let chaplains and parish priests know to look for the young people who are coming, too. If every diocese followed their lead, I am sure that every year hundreds more young Episcopalians would find faith communities when they leave home.

Parish leaders can also help young adults by simply staying in touch with them. Get their email addresses and send them a note periodically. Take them out for coffee when they are home for Thanksgiving and ask them not just about their classes but about their souls. Don’t be afraid to ask about their suffering, their relationships, their questions. Share stories about your own struggles, too. Let them know that faith is a journey with bumps and challenges and don’t try to convince them out of their uncertainty. Listen well. Let them know you’re praying for them.

Youth group leaders, Journey to Adulthood leaders, diocesan camp directors, Happening leaders, and diocesan youth ministry coordinators have a vital role to play, too. Take time to talk with seniors about what to expect in college. Encourage them to seek out a community of faith and help them figure out how to do that. Bring back alums who are in college now to talk about what college is like spiritually. If lots of your teens go on to a local college or university that has an Episcopal chaplaincy, bring the chaplain or a student leader from the chaplaincy in to talk about what’s happening.

These are some of my thoughts about what it means to “support these persons in their life in Christ.” I look forward to hearing yours.

The Rev. Amy McCreath is the Episcopal chaplain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Claiming our moral authority

By Richard Helmer

"We have no moral authority in this town," said a local minister in a closed-door ecumenical meeting shortly after I was called as rector of Church of Our Saviour. What followed were a few knowing chuckles around the table. Spurred on by worried parents in my new parish and a youthful naiveté, I had brought up the subject of sports practices and games pulling our young people away from Sunday morning Christian education and worship, with no clear ecclesiastical remedy in sight. We’d mulled over all the alternatives: Sunday afternoons were for additional games, rest, or homework. Sunday evening was for more homework. Saturday night was preparation for the game, or the ever elusive goal of "family time.” Weeknights were a maze of extracurricular and school-related activities (read: even more homework). Maybe a churchless society becomes an overscheduled society. Maybe an overscheduled society becomes a churchless society. "Should we write a letter together to the local paper?" I wondered aloud, prompting blank stares from my new colleagues.

Another pastor at last responded by noting that the Jewish community had come together a few years before to protest the crowding of sports into the Sabbath. They got some traction, but not much. The local Christian churches, on the other hand, had simply rolled over in reaction to the proliferation of teams and the encroachment on Sunday mornings. We apparently had even less “moral authority” over secular affairs than did our Jewish sisters and brothers.

I chewed on this for quite some time both in prayer and in conversation. Lacking moral authority seems to be the sum of all fears. It smacks of the irrelevancy that every Christian leader dreads, that every struggling faith community must confront in an ostensibly post- or even anti-Christian society. I looked across the yawning chasm between the Gospel and militant secularism and nearly despaired. Not seeing any tenable action to take that would bridge the chasm left me with the gnawing question that often appears from the pens of our harshest critics: If the church, or at least somewhat credible Christians, have no moral authority anymore, what then? Shouldn’t we just throw in the towel? Had we at long last sold our children out to the tide of secularism?

Soon after, our largely affluent, suburban community was gripped by a teenage suicide. A local high school student joined the hundreds of people who, over the course of several decades, had jumped off the Golden Gate bridge. Our small parish youth group spoke about Clive's death and made mention to our youth minister that his was only one of a series of recent deaths in the local school system - to drinking, drugs, or suicide. One of our youth members opined that there would be a month of triage at school: therapists, counselors, and experts would descend upon the student body for a few weeks. Then the subject of Clive’s death would fade from attention and fall off the priority list...until the next tragedy added to the already overpowering sea of shared pain and bewildered grief.

In the ensuing months, a 19-year-old graduate of the high school, while home from college, overdosed at a party. His non-religious memorial, led by his own parents and teachers, was held a week later in the high school theater, which was jam-packed even in the height of summer vacation season. I was awestruck by the finger-pointing and despair that was given a platform to speak during the memorial. But what utterly silenced me was the rampant co-dependency and addiction evident in the room. This wasn't the realm of the individual, which I had learned to understand and perhaps fathom. This was corporate, communal, and widespread. Josh was yet another canary in the coal mine, the next in line to go over the edge, which was even celebrated in a letter from one of his teachers that was read to the assembly. His picture and impish eyes in the memorial bulletin haunted me from an office bookshelf for the next month. We at Church of Our Saviour had to act. If not us, who? But how?

"We have no moral authority in this town." The words stuck in my head, playing over and over like the refrain to a cheap song.

To hell with it, I finally decided both figuratively and literally, and I called the counseling staff at the local high school to discuss the situation. Expecting resistance, I was instead greeted with a surprising "When can we meet?" In a week or so, with a group of parishioners, I sat down with the counseling staff, who welcomed us with open arms. They were practically running an ER on top of the usual academic counseling, with high-powered parents on one side, harried students on the other, no time and scant, mostly gutted state resources at their disposal. Could the church start helping organize the community? Could we step out and begin the hard work of breaking down barriers between institutions? Could we help rebuild a community of support for our youth over and against the isolation and addiction that was consuming so many?

We said yes, and within a year we had gathered together a variety of church leaders, non-profits, and health professionals into a coalition. We were before the city council helping advocate for a social host ordinance, so law enforcement could at last hold parents accountable for serving alcohol at youth parties in their homes. We were setting up community forums for parents and teens to talk about the pressures and dead ends of adolescence and an affluent, success-driven culture gone pathological for its children. We were reopening a conversation that had long been silenced by shame and fear: about the loss of human dignity in our young people that was fueling addiction, depression, and self-destruction.

When a 17-year-old member of a neighboring Episcopal parish jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge this January in an impulse suicide, we joined Casey’s parents and her priest, in witness to the board that oversees the world-renowned landmark. On what began as a recent ho-hum Friday, I found myself present in a history-making meeting that made international headlines. The bridge board, after decades of carnage, finally set aside the laissez-faire myth of "they'll do it somewhere else," heeded the pleas of religious leaders, countless family and community victims, and the mounting evidence of the psychological and psychiatric communities, and agreed to seek funding for a suicide barrier. The "silent cult of death," as a mentor and colleague deemed the pattern of complicity and suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge, was at last starting to break, and the church had played a part in that sea change.

Moral authority is an odd thing. Claim it as an abstraction, and no doubt we'll be laughed out of the town square in this day and probably in any age. My learning as I dug through the accounts of the New Testament in search of Christ's example, was that Jesus and his earliest followers never went into a town or village waving their moral authority credentials in people's faces. They simply began to heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, and proclaim the Good News.

Their example was telling us all we really needed to know: When we respond from the heart of our faith directly to the world's deep need for healing, we will find all the moral authority we need.

After sharing this with the parish I served, I was awestruck one morning when a parishioner stuck her head in my office door to thank me and say that she and her family had agreed not to sign up for any sports teams that practiced or played on Sundays. Church was that important to them.

The chasm, I realized, between church and secularism, the path to the church’s moral authority, was bridged already...by God's grace. All we have to do is walk across and invite others along.


The Rev. Richard E. Helmer, a priest, pianist, and writer, serves as rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif. His active leadership in the church includes interfaith, ecumenical, and wider church organizations, especially Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries, stewardship, youth advocacy, and ethnic and multicultural ministries in the Diocese of California. Richard’s sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs about spirituality, ministry, Anglicanism, church politics, music, and the misadventures of young parenthood at Caught by the Light.

Yes, young people do like traditional liturgy

By Luiz Coelho

I can still remember quite vividly the Saturday before the end of the Lambeth Conference, where I served as a steward. We were invited to a special plenary session at which bishops and their spouses had the opportunity to talk to some of us concerning why we, as young people, still wanted to be members of the Church (In fact, my estimate is that around half of us are following the ordination path and most of the others are actively involved in some sort of Church ministry). It is no secret that churches in general (especially in Western societies) are increasingly losing members of young age, and I could understand that for many of those bishops, it was very vital to hear the voice of the those young women and men who seemed to be so proud of their faith. Maybe what they had to say would help them rescue the unchurched and provide stable growth to their dioceses.

We had, unfortunately, very little time, and only four stewards (out of almost sixty) were chosen to speak for us. They did a good job, but some points, in my opinion, were not touched at all. And since I am in my late twenties, and can still be considered a young adult, I think it would be a good idea to push this conversation forward and foster a discussion on one of the aspects I see young adults articulating more and more interested in: traditional liturgy. And, I fear, many of our bishops have not realized the incredible potential behind this single fact.

The Lambeth Stewards' Program helped me catch a glimpse of Anglican Youth worldwide. We came from many different countries, backgrounds and social statuses, and we comprised two main generational groups (18-25 and 25-35). However, I noticed that many of us shared a very distinct appreciation for traditional liturgy. Moreover, a disproportional percentage among us -if compared with the amount of parishes compatible with such worldviews- were especially fond of Anglo-Catholic liturgy and ancient Church Music. Yes, I know many probably think we were just “Church nerds”, but these numbers match somehow the data I had before from Episcopal/Anglican youth both in Brazil and in the USA.

What I perceive more and more is that a sizable amount (and in some environments, the majority) of us prefers “old-fashioned” liturgy, and it is not rare to find youth discussing the beauty of an east-facing Mass, the dignifying simplicity of Anglican chant or the pity that Festal Evensong is almost unheard of nowadays. It may also come as a surprise for some to learn that such an interest in traditional liturgical matters is not necessarily attached to conservatism. In fact, among young adults it usually holds hands with an inclusive and socially liberal, yet credal, theology. Even in the few cases where I have ran into theologically conservative and liturgically traditionalist young Anglicans, they have seemed to me to be much more charitable to divergent ideas and more apt to accepting diversity, or even a peaceful co-existence in different Churches, or Church bodies.

One reason behind the popularity of this “movement” among young people is simple, and Derek Olsen beautifully opened the discussion here. I would add a second thought, though; many young Anglicans are attracted to traditional liturgical forms because they offer stability. We have been born in a fast-paced world, and in a short period of time have seen the rise and fall of countries, regimes, technologies, musical styles, fashion trends and even Church movements. At the same time, most of the cultural norms our mothers and fathers fought to liberalize do not apply to us anymore, and only God knows how they are going to be within some years. The world is freer, and it is changing so fast that sometimes it seems to be in a free-fall. The Church, to many of us, is the last glimpse of stability that exists in this post-modern society, and the certainty that its language has managed to be the same for all these years is a key factor for two reasons (among several):

- First, it puts us in an (even more) special relationship with the Communion of Saints, who throughout the ages have used the same responses, anthems and hymns to worship the Triune God;

- Second, because it is a wonderful metaphor of God's unchanging love and care for humankind. No matter what happens – hunger, fear, war, depression or loneliness – the Church, our safe refuge, will be there with a very familiar and easily recognizable embrace expressed in its magnificent and Christ-centered liturgy.

A year ago I had long, straight and dark brown hair. Eventually I had it cut at a very nice salon in Midtown Atlanta, and got a spiky longish bang, with copper brown highlights. Some months later, while in Rio, I had it cut again, and now I walk around with this funky faux-hawk which puzzles people when they see me – “I know him from somewhere, but I can't remember who he is...” I was different, but my home parish, the Church of the Redeemer in Rio, was the same when I went there after months in the US. It had the same smell of incense permeating the air, the same red old carpet spanning across the aisle, the same velvet curtains, and even the same 15-minute delay which is so common in Brazil. I opened the same blue 1962 hymnal and was blessed by having my favorite hymn, number 238, as sequence (lyrics by a deceased Brazilian priest, based on the icon of Christ in Majesty, adapted to the tune Kingsfold). I knelt and received the Most Holy Sacrament. They were singing Pange Lingua and, of course, I cried (as usual). It is impossible not to. That was home; that was my family in Christ. Yes, I changed; the people in that church also changed; even the priest changed... but those special moments did not. They reassured me of Christ's eternal love and majesty, the same way they did to me one year ago, to my relatives decades ago, and to the uncountable brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages.

What would my reaction have been if I had been presented to a completely different liturgy, with elements from the so-called “pop culture” such as a rock band, drums or new age music? What if the solid and still stable pews had been removed and substituted by folding chairs arranged in a totally different pattern? What if the hymnal, which consolidates centuries of good and theologically profound Church music, had been substituted by the newest folk songs du jour, which are likely not to be known ten years from now? What if my referential, one of the few stable elements of my world, had completely changed? I guess it would have been a calamity to me.

Yet, this is probably the most often heard “solution” for the “problem” of declining youth attendance in our Church.

Personally, I do not think that many kinds of alternative worship -provided it has a good theological background and is offered with a contrite heart- are inferior in God's sight to traditional liturgy. I even enjoy some of the more “contemporary” liturgies under certain circumstances (such as camps or retreats). I respect those who have found their way with Christ through such liturgical styles, and wholeheartedly support the existence of such groups in Anglicanism, provided they somehow find a way of keeping the common prayer tradition and abide by our doctrines of faith and Church governance. And I can say that many young people agree with me in those points, and that, yes, there are youth involved in those “contemporary” groups.

However, this is not what all young people expect from Church, and I am afraid that many of us are looking for something much more ancient and rich in historical heritage. Can I cite statistics? No, I do not have them, but of course I am a young adult, and naturally I hang out with young people and most of my friends are in the 20-40 age range. This is a very eclectic generation, in my opinion, and it is not rare to find people who can appreciate both hard rock and Gregorian chant, pierced noses and traditional albs, green-dyed hair and fine frankincense. Some of these tastes will not last more than one season; others will stay forever. But very often, we foresee the Church in this second group.

I do recognize that in many aspects, the Church has changed in a good way in the last forty years. Liturgically speaking, some important steps were taken. The Holy Eucharist became central in our Church's spiritual life, liturgies became more sensitive to cultural settings, we have improved lectionaries and laity have become more involved in liturgical life. The problem, however, is that such advances (which in many cases are curiously a return to very ancient principles) not rarely were accompanied by an extreme iconoclasm towards simple liturgical and architectural elements that were not bad per se, and if properly used, could perfectly remain in association with the aforementioned advances (provided those simple liturgical forms are not ‘dumbed-down and condescending as if only priests can think about theological matters). All of a sudden, though, rood screens, east-facing high altars, the act of kneeling (and sometimes the actual kneelers), some musical instruments, traditional chant, and even the Prayer Book format (among so many other things) were equated to the antichrist, and considered the source of all evil in the Church. Here and there, they were practically erased from ecclesial daily life, perhaps in a faster way than the liturgical changes happened during the Reformation.

I understand, however, that all of that was a response to the plea of a previous generation which was suffocated by the evil side of traditionalism, and needed to foster changes in a world that did not want to look forward. Forty years later, however, we are still caught by some of the same questions: “How to attract youth? How to create liturgies that are meaningful to newer generations? How to reinvigorate the Church?” My response to that would be that we went too far in some reforms (mostly liturgical ones) and maybe restoring some of the icons we as a Church broke, allied with the empowerment of youth in the life of the Church would be a great start in attempting to attract some people of my age.

Do not get me wrong, though. I am not advocating any kind of Church-enforced obligatory implementation of solemn high masses. But yes, maybe some communities which would be willing to give it a try should do it sometimes. But do not stop there! Please, allow youth to do something and literally join this stable tradition of the Church. I am pretty sure that many secretly want to swing the thuribles, organize a choir, read the lessons, chant the prayers of the people, lead Evening Prayer or help with Sunday School and Church committees (including the liturgy one). Very often, such positions, which could be shared with – or passed to – youth and young adults, are not. And yes, please try traditional liturgy. Many young people want it, but much more importantly, they want to help make it happen.

Let me end with a final and curious note. Lambeth stewards were awarded with the possibility of organizing a special mass for us and staff people at the Canterbury Cathedral's crypt. With such an astonishing location and so many liturgical resources, we did our best. Most of us had the opportunity of doing something, whether it was reading a lesson, an intercession, serving as an acolyte, playing the organ or joining the choir. We rehearsed for one week “If ye love me” by Tallis (which was our Communion hymn), celebrant and servers wore a lovely set of silky red vestments and clouds of incense filled that sacred space, as it has been, is now and will be forever.

It was the only service with incense during the Conference, by the way.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Back to school with Simone Weil

By Peter Carey

Taking a cue from a wonderful teacher I had in seminary, the first reading that I gave my high school Christian Theology students this year was an excerpt from Simone Weil’s book, Waiting on God. The chapter I give them to read is taken from a letter that Weil wrote in 1941 to the Superior of a community of Dominicans who was the head of a Catholic School, offering her advice. The title of the chapter is, “Reflections on the right use of school studies with a view to the love of God.”

In the letter, Weil lays out the virtue of attention, she asserts that cultivating attention is essential for not only one’s studies, but also for developing one’s prayer life.. She gives many surprising areas of school life where this kind of attention can be cultivated. From math problems in geometry, to exercises in Latin, Weil supports even the tedious and difficult parts of school as essential for developing one’s focus and attention. To me, as someone who has spent time studying the theology and practices of the Christian Faith, this assertion by Simone Weil seemed wonderful. Not only does it offer an interesting springboard to discuss Christian Theology, but I also thought it would allow me, as St. Catherine’s School Chaplain, to continue a conversation of the ways that our Faith is practices not only in chapel, but also in the classroom, the art studio, and the playing fields.

Well, my students weren’t buying it. While they thought she made some interesting points, they thought that Weil was overly optimistic about the spiritual value of seemingly endless equations and Latin exercises. They thought that her notion that no concern should be given to the result of all this work, or to grades, was great in the ideal, but they were juniors and seniors, and are anxious about their grades and college, after all. When I remembered my own studies of those areas that were especially difficult, like the 2nd Aorist in Greek, I tended to agree. I thought about my own tedious work in the basement of our apartment in seminary when I struggled to translate 10 or 15 sentences, drinking pot after pot of coffee, only to come to class and realize that I had muffed more of them than I had done correctly. Did these exercises really improve my prayer life? Did they really give me training in attention, or only build my ability to endure tedium?

I returned the next day of class and conceded that some of what we do in our schooling does not immediately seem to bolster our souls, and does not seem to give us spiritual refreshment. However, another emphasis of Weil’s caught my attention: it was her emphasis on joy. Simeon Weil makes the strident claim that joy is as essential to learning as breathing is for a runner. Though they were still a bit skeptical, on the topic of joy my students perked up. They had a lot to say about where they found joy. I shared with them memories of my own high school experience while in concert band I would have to count out several minutes of measures until I finally would play a few loud notes on the tympani. During the many hours of rehearsing, I found great joy enjoying the beautiful sounds that my fellow classmates were creating there in the chilly band room. It was a joyful thing to participate in making music. My students began to discuss the joy in running, not only winning a race, but even in the tedious training. They discussed the joy in volunteering at an underprivileged school, or traveling to the Global South where their assumptions were tested, and where their perspectives were broadened. A few even spoke to the joy they found in their academic classes, with an inspired teacher, or when studying a subject that opened their eyes to a new reality.

When writing her letter, Weil had the view that everything we do in learning could help us to grow in our sense of God’s presence. She was audacious enough to claim that even those Greek or Latin exercises, those geometry proofs, and the other difficult tasks could help us to grow in our attention to our work, and could help us grow in our attention to God. My students were still not willing to agree fully on this point. However, we all could agree that the Spirit was moving in surprising ways and could be sensed by us when we experienced joy in our work. There is an abundance of joy that is there for us to experience, there for us to help others see and feel, the gift has been given to us, it is there for us to be opened. I hope we can take the time to cultivate the Joy that is all around us, even as we move through the tedium of our own difficult exercises!

“Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love, hearts unfold like flowers before thee, praising thee, their sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away; giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.”
Episcopal Church Hymnal, 1982, Hymn #375

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. His theological assumptions are challenged and strengthened while leading services for over 800 young people each week and at home with his three children under 5 years old. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

Live the questions now

By Margaret M. Treadwell

During the weeks when high school seniors make their final decisions regarding college versus whether to take a gap year or get a job, I had the opportunity to spend five days at Cornell University talking with students about their hopes, dreams and challenges, especially during freshman year. What was their greatest challenge or surprise? Could they have prepared themselves better before arriving on campus? In retrospect, was there anything they would have done differently during the first semester? When so much is written about sex, drugs and alcohol on college campuses, what keeps them sober and mature in their decisions?

Two women, one enrolled in the famed Hotel School and the second in pre-med, her family’s tradition, said they always had known what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go to do it. So the huge university, a city unto itself, was an easy transition that nevertheless constantly required an attention to “balance” – the greatest challenge for everyone I interviewed.

The majority of students explained how they floundered when they didn’t fit in right away. “If you can’t take a challenge you can’t make it at Cornell or probably any college,” said a second-semester freshman. His method of survival was to take time during the first weeks to determine what he wanted to do with his life at Cornell, all the while forming friendships to decide whom he wanted to be with. Then when he saw an opportunity to get involved, he plunged in with others he respected and liked. Now he’s so busy and committed that it requires organization through a color-coded Microsoft Outlook program to keep his balance.

An articulate young man said he wished he had taken a gap year to grow up and learn about himself before beginning his studies.

“If only I’d known that to be open doesn’t mean to be without a plan,” he said. “Had I created a clearer picture of what I wanted to do with my life, including a goal and direction, I would have been less disoriented. A direction would have allowed me to try things, change my mind and stop making decisions the exact opposite of my parents’ wishes for me. My reactivity to them wasted my time and energy, but I appreciate their letting me make my mistakes because I learned from them.”

Colleges have different personalities and everyone agreed that it’s important to know the “brand” and what suits and encourages you – size, school spirit, quiet or active campuses, the residential situation, social environment and how you want to live and relate to the community.

Kirsten Gabriel, associate director of The Cornell Commitment, says, “The world can be a bubble in college, and service work gives a different perspective about where you are and what you’ve been given. For example, students are inherently joyful, and half an hour talking with a chronically ill elderly person gives insight into their ability to give joy, which is empowering. They tell me that they stay on track, make their best grades, that life is full and rich when they are thinking beyond themselves by committing to the campus and community life.”

On the other hand, Dina Zemke, an assistant professor in the School of Hotel Administration, talked about students who spend class time on their Blackberries or computers. “They are masters at multi-tasking and communicating through technology, but I often wonder about the balance in their lives,” she said. “Something has to suffer, often academics, when a person is Jack of all trades, master of none.”

Differing views raise more questions, the most important being one a human being needs to ask for a lifetime and can only answer for him or herself: “What do you want to do with your life?” Although the question implies a singular answer, in fact late adolescent and early adult years offer a chance to try out many different ideas, interests and disciplines and to learn from mistakes.

Rainer Maria Rilke provides useful advice in his “Letters to a Young Poet (1903):

“...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. She teaches a course on congregational leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary and creates and leads conferences across the country for bishops, clergy and church lay leaders, helping them to apply family systems concepts to their leadership in diocesan and parish ministry.

Hope amidst the mess

By Peter Carey

In the midst of Episcopal Church news that includes court decisions in Virginia, inhibition of bishops, and disagreements in many congregations one might be forgiven for thinking that our church is rapidly swirling down the toilet bowl.

News Flash: It ain’t!

We don’t have too look far to see the bright spots in our church. Check out the growing network of Episcopal Internship Communities across the United States. For several decades, churches and dioceses have sponsored small groups (4-8) of young adults (18-30 years old or so) who live in community and each member works at a social service agency. There are slightly different guidelines and practices between these groups, but together they are sending thoughtful, prayerful, and dedicated young people into the Church and the world.

In 1992-1993, I had the good luck to join a community that was administered by the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. At the time, the “Cathedral Volunteer Service Community” was made up of six young adults from around the country. We hailed from Texas, North Carolina, Connecticut, Ohio and Vermont and came to the community from a variety of religious and political perspectives. We were lucky enough to have as our leader and mentor the Rev. Carole Crumley, who was then a canon of the National Cathedral (and is now a leader at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation). The CVSC was grounded in a Rule of Life that had echoes of Benedictine Spirituality. We pledged to live in intentional Christian Community, praying together daily, sharing in the work of the household, meeting once a week for theological reflection with Canon Crumley, and also pledged to live a life of simplicity. In this case, simplicity meant (in part) that we each only received $100 a month for food (which we pooled to shop for the six of us) and $100 for other expenses. That was simple living!

We were challenged to feed and entertain six people on $600 a month. We were also challenged find ways to build community across our various theological and political differences, and it was not always easy. To top it off, five of us were first-born children in our family of origin! (We had some strong personalities to manage.) Outside of our house, I had the great fortune of spending a year working at the Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington (SMGW) where I offered employment counseling to those who were homeless or at risk of being homeless. Really, I didn’t know anything about finding work (as I never really had a job before!), but I encountered people who were decidedly different than me, and while I don’t know how much help I gave, I certainly learned a great deal.

The six people in my community followed a variety of paths after leaving the community. One became a priest within a few years after our program, two others became teachers, another worked in business and then decided to follow his heart and now does work with cancer patients, another does peace and justice advocacy with another denomination.

While the Cathedral Volunteer Service Community is no longer in existence, there are several other Episcopal Internship Communities that are thriving and growing. Trinity Episcopal Church in DC now offers a program in our nation’s capital. The Rev. Jason Cox, who is a friend of mine from seminary, administers the program in the Diocese of Los Angeles (Episcopal Urban Internship Program). There are several other communities which are offering young people a way to practice their faith by working for those in need, living in intentional community, and integrating this work and community-living into their theological views and spiritual practices. This is good news indeed! It also counters the long-standing assumption that people in their twenties and thirties will leave the church and will return only when they decide to have a family.

Some Episcopal Internship Communities are sponsored by parishes, others by groups of parishes, and others by dioceses. Not only are these wonderful opportunities for young people, they are also tangible signs that our church is doing good things in the world, and that the work is connected to our belief in Jesus Christ, our hope in the Resurrection and our call to live lives of hope and compassion.

As a new priest, I am often asked: “Does the church have anything to say to the world?” It certainly does! One of the best ways to “say something to the world” is to show the world what we’re doing. These programs say that our church is engaged with the world and is developing dedicated disciples.

Can we do more? Certainly.

Can we encourage even more of these programs to develop? Absolutely.
Is our church about more than legal battles, inhibitions, schism, and disagreements? You bet!

Check out the Episcopal Internship Communities at The Episcopal Church’s website in the section on “Domestic Internships.” There is also Facebook group “I was a member of an Episcopal Internship Community,” as well – check them out!

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

Coming to Church: a reminiscence

By Greg Jones

I am an Episcopalian. Not by accident of birth, or cultural happenstance. No, I am an Episcopalian because The Episcopal Church welcomed me, embraced me, and initiated me into the mysterious Body of Christ Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the Whole World, of which our church is a vital part.

I do not come from a 'cradle Episcopalian' family. My paternal grandmother was most decidedly uninterested in organized religion. My paternal grandfather was a Baptist. My maternal grandparents were extremely traditional old world Roman Catholics. My father was not raised in any Christian church, my mother left Roman Catholicism as soon as she could, and most of my cousins were almost entirely unchurched in their growing up.

I spent a great deal of time with a family in our neighborhood that had tons of kids and they became like another family for me – the mother of which led the choir in a Methodist church. I joined that choir – and thus began my first experience of church life. "All Thing Bright and Beautiful" was my favorite hymn from those days. I was five years old, to be exact, when I sang in a Methodist children's choir.

My parents separated before I entered the first grade, and for the rest of my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, I would shuttle between households. However, and thankfully, at the very time of my parents' divorce, a neighbor invited us to attend worship at his church. It was St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., and from the moment we walked in the front door on Albemarle Street, I knew I had a home. Not only a spiritual home – but a home made of bricks and mortar, wood and glass, with a fixed location and a glorious capacity to bring people in. Every time I drove by my parish I would look at it and smile – and know that it was my place too.

St. Columba's was undergoing revival in those days, seeing tremendous growth in worship attendance, music ministry, outreach, mission, education, and spiritual formation – much like St. Michael's is today. I joined the choir there – my mother took classes and was received into the Episcopal Church – and for the rest of my childhood we spent most of our quality time associated with parish life in one form or another.

My first band played there – we played rock and roll at a talent show – and some poor kid in my band even did a break-dancing routine. (It was 1982.) I knew every single square foot of that entire facility. When they had a capital campaign and added significantly to the worship space and bought a world-class organ – it was something I was very excited about, even as a young kid. I took great pride in the beautification and expansion of the nave – and in the glorious sound which came from the organ. The beautiful architecture and the music formed me deeply.

Choir, Sunday School, retreats, youth trips, soup kitchen work, friendships, pancake suppers, weddings, funerals, sneaking around with a pack of kids – it was all what made that parish my home and my way into the Kingdom.

Quite simply, other than my own parents and grandparents, and a few other people – no other place, no other community, no other shaping force has done more to make me who I am than the Episcopal Church – as found on Albemarle Street in Washington, D.C.

If it weren't for the Episcopal Church, as expressed in that congregation with its very specific place in space and time, and its faithfulness to the Gospel, I wouldn't even know who I was. Thank God for the evangelism of the people of St. Columba's who knew that it takes more than talk to spread the Good News. It takes more than getting doctrine right. It takes more than knowing what the Scripture says. It takes more than all of that. It takes the creation of a spiritual home which is alive in the Spirit, and which is truly focused on being the place where disciples of Jesus worship God, meet and grow together, and are formed into the full stature of Christ.

For this I continue to be grateful for and at home in the Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. Greg is rector of St. Michael's Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.

Winterlight

By Susan Fawcett

The week after Christmas, I found myself at a conference for Episcopal high school students at Kanuga (a camp and conference center in North Carolina) called ‘Winterlight.’ Two hundred students came from as far away as New Jersey and Miami to be there. Leading this event was a group of 56 adults, many of them college students, most of them under 30 years old.

Winterlight’s theme this year was “You are the light of the world.” Each day’s activities, music, worship, program time, and small group discussions touched on some particular aspect of that theme, as we sought to let the light of God shine through us.

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The week was truly remarkable, highlighted by several events. In the space of three hours in one afternoon, the Winterlight community packaged 33,000 meals for Stop Hunger Now, which will go to Haiti and Tanzania for famine relief. An evening variety show celebrated the talents—diverse and sometimes silly—of the participants. A New Years’ Eve Eucharist ended with laying-on-of-hands for the graduating seniors, and dancing and singing that quite literally shook the rafters of the Kanuga chapel. Between these events were the smaller moments that happen on retreats, time-out-of-time—meals, walks, discussions, games, singing, and connections forged between people who otherwise might never have met.

The story of Winterlight is a unique and particularly moving one, and I can’t recommend the conference enough as an opportunity for any high school students you might know. Kanuga also offers a similar summertime event called ‘Youth Week.’ But that is not exactly the story I’m trying to tell here.

What has stayed with me since the conference ended is the power of the Winterlight staff, many of whom are college students. Their high caliber was evident in some obvious ways—the professionalism of the music and of the audio-visual work, for example. Several skits involved pre-recorded digital videos that had been expertly directed, recorded, and edited. The music team managed to include professional and amateur musicians on a repertoire that went all the way from Christmas hymns to Rihanna’s Umbrella—a feat in itself.

Moreover, each day’s program was developed by a team of staff, not by a professional (nor seminary-educated) keynoter. Their articulate presentation, compelling faith, and creative teaching mechanisms could not have been more effective.

The staff showed their power in more subtle foundational ways as well. The care they showed for each other in developing a staff community that was open to newcomers, the remarkable compassion and patience they showed for the participants, the energy they brought to each day’s program, all of these things were significant. I was particularly impressed by the utter lack of cynicism the staff showed about their work. These people truly believe in the power of God to shape lives through community. Winterlight is not, for them, just one way to occupy youth over New Year’s Eve or pitch church propaganda. For them, it is a very real connection to God, a privilege, and a holy task.

Conference co-coordinator Rebecca Nelson Edwards reflected about this same issue. “Because I grew up participating in Winterlight as a teenager and then transitioned onto staff, it seemed normal that 60 people would detach themselves from home and family for the week after Christmas (including New Year's Eve!) to spend time with 200 teenagers talking about God and faith and learning to love yourself. As I began working in the ‘real world’ a few years ago, I started to gain more appreciation for the miracle that actually is, even within the Church. Not only do these folks give significant time and energy to this endeavor - they're really good at it, and that evolves not out of any particularly special training (other than Safeguarding God's Children, of course) or skill, but just out of a deep love and willingness and energy.

Every single member of the staff could be counted on both for leadership and pastoral care at any given moment, and it was most gratifying to watch ministry taking place everywhere you turned during the week. Actions that might seem heroically gracious anywhere else are commonplace in the Winterlight community.

“This year I really began to look around and notice how young most of our staff is - over half of them are still college students, which only makes me all the more impressed at their competence. I'm surprised even more when I hear most of our younger staff members talk about their day-to-day lives outside Kanuga, because many of them, like typical college students, don't necessarily keep up their involvement in church or even Canterbury groups.

“In other words, these aren't just a bunch of church nerds who have nothing better to do. They're ordinary folks from all walks of life who have been touched by the Holy Spirit at Winterlight and want to pay it forward. It's one of the most genuine ways for ministry to be born.”

Edwards’ observation about the young age of the staff bears noting. One of the aspects of the conference that most impressed me was the ‘Torchbearers’ program. College freshmen, on staff for the first time, serve as Torchbearers. They have some special tasks at the conference, including finding a new and creative way to light the Winterlight candle at the beginning of each day. They also meet together as a group each day.

Christopher Turner, a former Winterlight coordinator and currently Executive Director of Grace Point Episcopal Camp and Retreat Center (Diocese of East Tennessee), helps run this aspect of Winterlight. He noted that the Torchbearer program was developed to bridge that 'gap' year after high school graduation. Not just forging a sense of team spirit or reinforcing the rules, the extra time spent as a group under the guidance of more experienced leaders offers them a separate time to process the transition from participant to staff member, from youth to adult.

‘Young adult ministry’ has been getting a lot of press and energy lately. Churches have been engaging their young adults with Pub Theology events, small groups, conferences like Camino, and alternative worship services. That is all well and good. I was captivated at Winterlight, however, by the leadership of these young adults, some of them only one year out of high school.

This is a generation that learns not by listening or even by talking but by doing. What opportunities for doing ministry, for real leadership are we creating for young adults in the church? How are we creating intentional routes for young adults to transition from ‘youth’ to ‘adult’ status, the way Torchbearers do at Winterlight? And if these college students and twentysomethings have so much to offer (and gain) from church leadership, why are so many parishes bemoaning their lack of young adults in the pews on Sunday mornings?

As a priest who works mostly with youth in my parish, I have spent a lot of time telling middle- and high-school students how important their voices are. They hear over and over again that they are full members of the church, that they have the power to change the world, and that their faith can be inspiring for others. But beyond high school graduation, there often seems to be something of a desert out there, marked by small oases of college ministry and camp counselor experiences.

I was touched at Winterlight that there are in fact many other powerful ways for young people to continue to do ministry in college and beyond, perhaps with more freedom than might be possible within the framework of a parish.

The Rev. Susan Fawcett keeps the blog This Passage. She serves a parish the Diocese of Virginia, and supports the work of the General Convention publication The Center Aisle.

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