15 July 2009

House of Bishop's Address: Part II

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 Grace's written remarks delivered on Saturday, July 11.

I love this church. It is part of my identity and has taught me to love and serve the Lord. I don’t presume to think that I, one 18-year-old Virginian girl, can offer much advice to a room full of bishops. So, I’m not here to tell you how I think you should run things. I can, however, offer you something that you do not have—my unique perspective.

Eighteen of you ladies and gentlemen out there have an official youth representative that hails from your diocese. In our comparatively short lives, I can assure you that we have done as much for the church as most adults have. So, my first request is that if there is a youth presence from your diocese, get to know them, pray for them, give them your time. For those of you who do not have a youth presence here from your diocese, do not despair! Please, everyone, come and join us. For the rest of our time here, I think you should all set a goal for yourselves to speak with at least one member of the Official Youth Presence. Use us as a resource for youth ministries. We are here to be the voices for the youth in this convention. So come and let our voices be heard.

When all of you do come and talk to us, we will most likely tell you about how deeply our lives have been changed by the youth programs of the Episcopal Church. My spiritual journey began in the youth programs of my diocese, and it was there also that I learned how to see God in every part of life. It was there that I learned about selflessness and service. And it was there that I learned that changing the world doesn’t mean treating AIDS victims in Africa, but that I can change one person’s world, one young person’s world, by simply being there to listen to them. What saddens me, then, is that all Episcopal youth are not given the same opportunities that I have been given. Every diocese in the Episcopal Church should have a youth program. I know that many of you are rolling your eyes or gently laughing at my naïveté, thinking, “Silly girl, she doesn’t understand what she’s asking.” And you’re right. I don’t understand budgets or much about money or tithing or pledges.

But there are some things I do understand. I understand what it’s like to package 80,000 meals to feed starving children. I understand what it’s like to find and return a woman’s wedding veil in the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina and hold her hand as she thanks God for his indelible grace. I understand what it’s like for youth events to be a safe-haven for kids with abusive or neglecting parents. I understand what it’s like to feel the power of the Holy Spirit moving so boldly inside you that you feel like you can conquer the world. And it’s not just me having these experiences. Episcopal youth across the world are encountering Christ every day, raising their voices in praise and accepting God into their lives.

Strong youth programs produce empowered youth—and that’s a fact. The official youth presences here have accomplished much for this church, but what would our church look like if every young person had the opportunity to do what we have done? It would be breathtaking. Not only would the Episcopal Church be a different place, but the world would be different, too. Give us a place in your dioceses. It can all start with you—you all have that power. Set aside money in the budget for the youth. Start youth events. Hire youth workers. Visit other diocese with strong youth programs. Talk to the young people present here this week in California. There are endless resources at your fingertips. I have seen in my own diocese how strong bishop support of youth programs can ignite youth ministries, and I can say with all confidence that our success has come from the fact that Bishop Powell is behind us 150%.

Bishops of the church, I do not only ask you to support us, but I ask you to join us. Come out and rage in the streets. Scream with us. Come and worship God with reckless abandon. The energy is infectious, I promise you. And I also promise that if you come with an open heart, you will be readily received.

I have taught my bishop how to use his laptop, he has prayed at my bedside in the hospital, and I have taken communion from his hands on a mountaintop surrounded by the glory of God’s creation. And that has made all the difference for me. So when I ask you to invest in us, I’m not only talking about money. Invest your time, your talents, your goofiness, your charisma, and your knowledge of God.

I await the day when the presence of a bishop at a youth event is no longer an honor, but a certainty. I want all of you to able to say that the youth in your diocese are doing amazing things, but what I really want is for you to be able to say that the youth in your diocese are doing amazing things, and that you were with them every step of the way.

They say that young people think they know everything— and that is no curse. We are yet unburdened by the decorum and expectations of society. For many of us, life has dealt a difficult hand, yet it is not enough to bring us down. We are unstoppable. With our youthfulness, comes our undying sense of hope and belief. There is no discouragement or bitterness among us, for, as young people, we still hold on to our fresh, optimistic view of the world. Do you remember that feeling? This is a generation of empowered young men and women and I feel their hearts with me right now. Young people can do things that adults think are impossible because we do not yet believe in any impossibility. I beg you to come and experience this. What do you have to lose?

I know we are living in a time of tight budgets and slashed programs. It’s getting scary out there. And I know that it would be extremely easy to slash through budgets for your young people. Please, don’t give up on us. The eighteen young people here are a testament to the fact that youth ministries works. I know with every fiber of my being that if you come to us, if you come and join us, if you come and put faces on the “Youth” line-item on your diocesan budget, then you will never dream of cutting anything. If you come, you will understand.

Experiences in youth ministries didn’t change my life—they gave me life. Please, don’t take that opportunity away from other young people. I believe in the youth of this world and I have seen the Holy Spirit transform teenagers into instruments of God’s peace.

Bishops of the church, my brothers and sisters, come and meet us today, come and live with us today, so that our church can continue to be filled with our spirit tomorrow. You are all doing amazing things for this church, and I can say “thank you” right now. But the best way that I can really thank you is to live out my life spreading goodwill to the rest of the world. There are thousands of kids out there just like me with the potential to immerse the world in our love and energy. It is up to us to give them that chance. Let’s open the flood gates.

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