The Official Youth Presence discerned two young people to address the House of Deputies. Zach Brown (Diocese of Upper South Carolina, Province IV) spoke first, followed by Carolyn Chou (Diocese of Pennsylvania, Province III). Following are Carolyn's written remarks delivered on Monday, July 13.
Good morning Madame President and the House of Deputies and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you.
I have been fortunate to be involved with the Episcopal Church at a parish, diocesan, and national level. However, the church’s response to my involvement in events, discussions, and activities not labeled for youth has been disheartening. As youth, it is our job to prove ourselves in the church, but it is your job to give us the chance to do that.
So often we have been pushed aside or not been allowed to voice our opinions under the impression that we do not have the maturity or knowledge to make decisions and hold opinions on issues that the Episcopal Church faces every day. We may be young but if it is something that is important to us we will gain the knowledge and use our thoughtfulness to best serve the church.
We are young. We are idealistic. We can change the world.
I truly believe there is no better way to get youth involved in the church than through outreach and activism. If we can connect the issues surrounding equality and justice that intrigue youth and combine them with the church, we can create a movement that extends beyond the church and extends God’s love to the world.
We as youth are constantly looking for outlets to express ourselves, to find others who have similar values and interests, to give a voice to our opinions, and to find ways to engage the world. If the church can pull youth in and provide them with these outlets, we will stay. But we need to see a church that reflects our lives and our world and the issues that affect us.
When I see all the amazing things organizations in the church are doing to better our cities, country, and world, I am overwhelmed. But why is it that so few youth in my diocese, and I can only assume internationally, have never heard of these organizations and have no way to get involved? Creating youth focused, youth based, and youth run social justice and service campaigns will help engage youth who have not yet found the resources the church offers outside of their parishes. There needs to be a balance of youth focused activities that are accessible and accessibility to all church events without a “youth” label.
How many young people act as ushers and acolytes in your church? How many young people serve in some capacity on your vestry? How many young people have you seen at a diocesan convention? These are easy ways to get youth involved in leadership activities not always reserved for youth.
As we move into college and the next phase of our lives, we have always heard that people lose their faith, stop going to church at this time. By making the church relevant and applicable to youth and young adults, we will not only get more involved in the church, but campus ministry can pick up again and we can maintain the young adult population as they move through transitions.
As deputies to convention, as parishioners, as members of a diocese and a province and an international church, show us how much you really trust and respect us. Be an active member in the lives of the youth in your church, your diocese, and beyond. The conversations and the support you can provide will encourage youth to get involved and stay involved. It will make the Episcopal Church more than just a home every Sunday. It will become what it has become for us—something worth dedicating time and energy toward, something worth trying to make better.
Encourage us to tell our story. By making our stories valued and appreciated parts of the life of the church, you are quickly making us a larger part of the family—integrating us will keep us around.
We are young. We may sometimes make mistakes. We may not always see things the way you do. But by making youth a priority for this church and this faith will insure the growth and sustaining of this amazing church. Do not expect us to always approach things the way you do, but expect us to take the responsibility you give us and make a difference.
Let us create movements for youth and young adults to keep them in the church, and let us include them fully in the life of the church. We are not just the future but the present. Let us be a part of the present and let us share our values and stories with you.
The Episcopal Church is my home and I have always felt welcomed. But the church needs to challenge itself to be a true home to youth—a supportive, enthusiastic network. We definitely have opinions; just take the time to listen.
Lastly, I want to invite Zach back to the podium.
We know that the decisions that will be made over the next week will be hard and that no matter what happens, some will be hurt. I stand before you as a proud liberal and Zach stands next to me as a proud conservative. But here we are. Standing together, sharing our stories, united in our mission. We hope that you remember this as the convention moves forward—no matter what, we are all in this together. We are the Episcopal Church and we will stand together. Let us be one before God and let us move forward listening to the Spirit as we make these hard choices.