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.