15 July 2009

House of Bishop's Address: Part I

The Official Youth Presence discerned two young people to address the House of Bishops. Michael Sahdev (Diocese of Southeast Florida, Province IV) spoke first, followed by Grace Aheron (Diocese of Southwest Virgina, Province III). Following are Michael's written remarks delivered on Saturday, July 11. (Sorry this one posted so far after the fact - we were experiencing technical difficulties :)

Hello my name is Michael Sahdev from St. Benedict's in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. Thank you for allowing me to address the House of Bishops. Please hear my words and put them into action.

Too many Christians are no longer fishers of people but keepers of the aquarium. Is that what we, the Episcopal Church, have become. According to the Blue Book and the statistics in attendance then yes, that is exactly what we have become. Jesus called us to be fishers of people, to go out into the world and preach the good news to every living creature.
If that was what we were doing then most of our provinces wouldn’t have a decline in membership. Lets think about just how serious a lack of evangelizing is. What does it mean for the Episcopal Church? Well membership will continue its strong decline, parishes will struggle to stay open, and how long will it be before we have a diocese collapse completely? And once a diocese goes the entire Episcopal Church will struggle, and then the unthinkable; the Episcopal church is no more.

Not only does this obviously hurt us as a church but it hurts the rest of the world. People who needed the Episcopal church will only fall deeper into sin and will never know Christ. According to the Blue Book the total change in our membership is a decrease in 148,197 members from
2003 to 2007. Could it be the fact that we as Episcopalians haven’t been doing our part in evangelizing has caused this? And please don’t take my word for it, an article on Episcopal Life Online published in March 2009 reported that relatively few Episcopal churches say that their members are heavily involved in recruiting new members. Only 21% say their members are involved "quite a bit" or "a lot." We can have the best services the best sermons and the best music, but none of it matters if no one knows it exists.

I have found that many people, especially youth, have never even heard of the Episcopal Church. The youth of the world are in fact a great opportunity for us to gain membership in the church. The youth today need this church, we are constantly tempted into sin through the Internet, television, our peers, and society as a whole. Other youth are out looking for something that will make them whole, something that will lift them up, why not let it be Christ. The fact is youth today are looking for the church whether they know it or not, but it is up to us to make it noticeable and welcoming to them.

So just how can we do this?

Well we were off to a good start with The Episcopal Church Welcomes You signs, but instead of just saying it, let's mean it. When there’s a visitor to a church it needs to be a big deal, we need to show them that they are welcomed, and that even though we might not have ever seen them before, we love them. And with the Episcopal Church welcomes you signs why not instead of putting those signs in front of the church put them everywhere? Billboards, bus stops, malls , anywhere people will see them. There are many other denominations that even put out ads on television . I know everything costs money, but the old saying goes you have to spend it to make it, and I believe if we put forth the money to show people we're out here and we want you to be in our family, those collection plates every Sunday will be getting heavier and heavier.

It's time we leave the safety of the aquarium and not just go out into the world, but dive into it and make a big splash. Let's make it so people have to go, "Geez! What is the Episcopal Church, and why are they so welcoming?" We can be fishers of people but we have to go fishing. I think a lot of people think evangelizing is more of a 'good deed of the day' type of thing. Where you feel better about yourself because you shared your testimony to someone last week, when in reality we should be treating evangelism like we do prayer, as an ordinary routine thing that is just part of being a Christian.

So once we stop relying on fish to swim in on their own, how do we keep them for more than a Sunday or two? One way is very simple, with love and personal connection. Youth and young adults need to make a connection right away. My generation is used to having the world at their fingertips with only a click. The first impression is the decision maker for us. Let's get people involved. I brought a friend to church and because he was invited to do so many things he felt he had an obligation to come back. Another way of doing this is by having a worship service that is "youth friendly." And worship can’t end with the service.

We need more groups and events like New Beginnings, Happening, Cursillo, the EYE’s and Provincial events. These type of things especially impact youth because you see a wider church and you realize, "Hey, I'm not alone in my church, there are other Episcopal youth like me out there."

Bishops you must lead the way for all of us because as the heads of the church we look to your example. We do a lot of talking about the second coming when half the world hasn’t heard about the first. But we can change that. We can change the fact that when you go on Google and type in Episcopal Evangelism the first link on the page reads "Episcopal Evangelism: An Oxymoron."

Let's start saving people from the sharks of the world. Bishops the youth of the world especially need you today, and in turn you need us as well. Our world is one filled with sin covered in darkness that aims to keep the church away from us. You, with Christ, must be the candle to enlighten our world and bring the rest of us back home to the Father. In President John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier speech, he opened the eyes of our nation to the possibility of a greater country than could have ever been imagined by the preceding generation. Bishops, clergy, lay people, youth and young adults, today the Episcopal Church is looking at a new frontier, filled with opportunity not yet imagined. It is ours for the taking. We have the opportunity to go out into the shark filled waters and bring home boat loads, just as Christ commissioned us long ago . Our church has come so far and yet I believe the best is yet to come. I envision a growing church filled with a generation hungry for spirituality, experiencing Christ through the sacraments in our magnificent Episcopal tradition.

Some would like us to believe that our declining membership and social conflicts signal our darkest of days. But the light can and will shine through. The Great Commission is our New Frontier. I am asking you, the leaders of our church, to inspire us to share the Good News, lead us in our journey into the New Frontier, empower us to be fishers of people.

Listen to our call and put these words into action. If we continue to build on youth involvement in the church, keep youth as a priority to this church, and step up our commitment to evangelize, then I can promise you the future is brighter than ever. Help us to not just be Keepers of the Aquarium, but Fishers of All people.

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