Why ARE youth in church?

By Jacob Nez

with help from Jeremy Blackwater and Jay Begay

Every time someone whines about youth not being in Church I feel like dirt, like we who do go to church don’t exist.

I am 18 and I and 41 more of us go to the Episcopal Church. We don’t always go at the same time because we don’t have transport. We also have to pick and choose a Church that will welcome us. We are youth and we are Native Episcopalians. There is a lot of racism in some of these churches.

None of us live on the Reservations. We live in five border towns in N. Arizona. We are from four Native Nations in Arizona and New Mexico.

All of us came to the Church through the Spirit Journey Youth group in the Diocese of Arizona. When we began 12 years ago as a group, we were a lot of trouble. We would go to Church as a group and squirm around a lot. Kaze Gadaway, our youth minister had to tell us when to sit and kneel. A lot of the congregation complained about our being there.

I don’t know how we changed. Kaze took us to different churches until we found some who wanted us there. Now there are three main churches who always want us there and let us be acolytes and read the scriptures. Saint John’s Episcopal/Lutheran in Williams, Az.; St. Francis in Rio Ranch, New Mexico; and St. John’s Episcopal Church in LaVerne, CA. They all welcome us and go out of their way to tell us that they are glad we are there. They let us do some of our Native rituals with sage.

We don’t go to Church every Sunday. We meet in small groups in homes, parks, the van or a fast food place. We do our group worship service based on the Episcopal service. We pray and we do service projects for the homeless. We go to Church when we can afford the gas. We spend a lot of time together studying the Bible and talking about faith questions.

There are 17 young adults over 18 who are on the leadership team. We are learning about the ways of the Church and how to read the Book of Common Prayer. No one is over 21. Kaze checks out the churches we attend and makes sure that they will welcome youth and Natives. We are looking for churches who will accept us in their congregations as we move away from here. This is not easy.

Let me tell you why we go to Church.

It’s not the sermon. Sermons are usually not about anything we can relate to.

It’s not the music. The music is horrible.

It is the sacrament of Baptism and the Eucharist.

It is very important to us that we are in a ceremony that connects us to the Holy. It is important that we see the Christ in each other and that we work against injustices. It is important that people in a Church are serious about the ceremony and treat it with respect. Almost all of us have been baptized and have taken our first communion as the highlight of our spiritual life.

The way we know that it is a good Church to visit is when we pass the peace. If a congregation really treats us as one of them when they pass the peace, then we know we are in a holy place.

We go to Church when we can and when we are welcomed. We will continue to invite other youth to Church when we find one who welcomes us.

We are youth and we do go to Church whenever we can.

Jacob’s bio: I am an Episcopal Native young adult with the Spirit Journey Youth group. I live in Albuquerque with other members of the Journey Youth Leadership team. I am in a community college and want to be a teacher.

~ed. See essays by Kaze Gadaway at the Café and here for more on Spirit Journey Youth. Some poems from Spirit Journey Youth are on Art Blog

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  1. Grace Burson

    I don’t understand people who wouldn’t welcome youth into their churches! Jacob, Jeremy, Jay and friends – please know that if you ever find yourself in Plymouth, New Hampshire, you are very welcome at the Church of the Holy Spirit. And I try to make the sermons interesting!

  2. I wonder how many more would show up if the music wasn’t horrible and the sermons were relevant.

  3. Thanks for this fine piece of writing. Christians worshiping in denominational churches need to read it. Even those of us who have spent their lives as church musicians! Blessings on your journey and all that walk with you. (will share on my fb page)

  4. Of more concern to me is them having to find a church that will welcome them wholeheartedly. Too often is is “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You…if you will behave like us.”

  5. sarah

    I know it will be along drive, but you are all welcome at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Montevallo, AL

    sarah – Please sign your first and last name when you comment on the Café thanks ~ed.

  6. L. Zoe Cole

    If any of the Spirit Journey Youth are in Denver, please find yourself welcome at St. Luke’s at 1270 Poplar Street (parking lot on Quebec & 13th). If you can manage the early service at 7:45 am, there is no music. The later service is at 10:15. I don’t like the music either, but that’s when Godly Play is. Officially, that’s for 3-9 year olds, but anyone who likes a good biblical story and is into collective wondering is welcome.

    God’s Peace,

    L. Zoe Cole

    Godly Play Storyteller, St. Luke’s, Denver, CO

  7. St. Michael’s is not a traditional church, but rather an Episcopal outreach ministry center in Riverside, California at 4070 Jackson Street. You are always welcome here. We do not have scheduled services, but informal Eucharists and lots of ministry through various groups, not the least of which is the Community Garden. I am the priest, and I am Blackfeet. God bless you. Mary+

    Mary+ please sign your name when you comment at the Café — thanks~ed.

  8. Even as an adult it is hard to find a fit in a church. When moving to the US in 2003 we took a year to find a church and then changed three years later. We almost never went to late service because the music was like a funeral dirge and not happy. And the sermons were like college lectures, all scripted with points, references, a personal experience and often nothing to tie it up at the end (what were the three points we started with?)

    Nrkmann – please sign your name when commenting at the Café – thanks ~ed.

  9. Nonadominguez

    My husband and I go to church in Pomona, which is near La Verne, CA. If any of you aren’t able to go to your church and need a substitute, you are more than welcome to come to church with us. We will even pick you up!

    Our church isn’t Episcopalian, but we love the Lord and are happy to offer a welcome to you.

    Thank you so much for sharing…

    Nona Dominguez

    San Dimas, California

    Member at Fountain of Love Christian Fellowship, Pomona, CA

  10. I”m sorry you’ve been to places with sermons you can’t relate to, and with music you think is terrible. But I’m glad you’ve found places and people who welcome you into what really is most important.

    “It is very important to us that we are in a ceremony that connects us to the Holy. It is important that we see the Christ in each other and that we work against injustices. It is important that people in a Church are serious about the ceremony and treat it with respect. Almost all of us have been baptized and have taken our first communion as the highlight of our spiritual life.”

    That, right there, may be the best sermon I read all week. Thank you for your words.

    Jane Schmoetzer

  11. Great sharing by Jacob, Jeremy, and Jay! We, at Christ Church, Delavan, WI (503 E. Walworth Ave.) welcome you too, if you are ever in Wisconsin please DO come and worship with us and come back again, and again! Thanks for sharing what we all need to hear and learn from.

  12. Clint Davis

    This seems to me more about welcoming and hospitality than bad music and bad preaching. There’s not that many great preachers out there, and even fewer really good church musicians, particularly in smaller mission churches. That’s seems the point, it’s not about the show, it’s about the go, about the welcome, about the inclusion, about the lack of funny looks at young people who just want to go to church and serve sometimes.

  13. David Sibley

    Yet another reminder that that admonition Philips Brooks kept in his pulpit is still true of those who come to church today: “We wish to see Jesus.”

  14. Marya DeCarlen

    Jacob, Jeremy and Jay,

    I love that you seek holiness in community. I love that you are using words to encourage adults and other youth to help us all understand why a community of the faithful is important to you. You all are AWESOME. You are already teachers.

    Marya DeCarlen+

    St. James Episcopal Church, Groveland

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