14 July 2009

The picture is the Official Youth Presence with the Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, prior to the Sunday morning General Convention Celebration of Holy Eucharist and United Thank Offering "Ingathering."

The following is the address given to the Episcopal Church Women Triennial gathering on Friday morning by Jacqueline Bray (Province VIII) and Amy Esposito (Province I).

Good morning! My name is Jacqueline Bray. I am 18 years old and a member of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in the Diocese of San Diego.

Hello! My name is Amy Esposito. I am 16 years old and a member of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Rhode Island. Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to speak with you today. We are very excited to be here at our first General Convention and look forward to learning more about the church during our time here. Also, thank you for the support you give to the youth throughout the Episcopal community and beyond. To be honest though, I had never heard of ECW before the Official Youth Presence training weekend in Atlanta. I did my research and I would love to be a part of this family. It is inspirational that this marks the 46th triennial meeting of this faith community.

(Jackie) As a young child, I never understood why I wasn’t allowed to acolyte till the golden age of 10. It didn’t seem fair that I wasn’t allowed to do work in the church, merely based on the years I’ve been on the planet. One Sunday when I was in the fourth grade, Father Sean Cox was giving a sermon and he said I was a sage that had taught him things. I was so confused as to why he would compare me to that of a plant, but once that issue was sorted out, I was so empowered. Empowered in that, despite my age, I taught this adult something, I mattered, and from then on, I pushed the limits that exist in the minds of some older Episcopalians.

(Amy) I have grown up in the Episcopal Church. I can always remember attending Sunday service with my family. A couple of years ago I noticed that every Eucharist minister at my Parish was somewhere over 35 years old. I asked our Rector if I could be a chalice bearer and she seemed surprised that a youth would even be interested in serving as a chalice bearer. As soon as I turned 16, I began serving as a Eucharistic Minister at my Parish. Taking on this leadership position has given me an entirely new aspect of the Eucharist as well as a chance to show my Parish that the youth can be responsible leaders in the Church.

(Jackie)The Official Youth Presence met in Atlanta in April to meet each other and discuss what is most important to us in the Episcopal Church. The three topics that are of the most interest to us are Youth Involvement in the Church, Evangelism and Outreach and Human Rights. First and foremost, the Official Youth Presence would love to see more support for youth involvement in the church.

(Amy) All 18 of us are very involved in the church community, but have also been faced with limitations because of our age. Although at 16 we are considered adults in the Episcopal Church, the Official Youth Presence is not offered a vote at General Convention and some of the youth have been denied Vestry membership and other leadership positions at their churches because of their age.

(Jackie) We hope to achieve more support for youth involvement in the church at this General Convention by showing you that we don’t have apathy and the matters of our church are important to us. We believe that every Parish should have a Youth Representative on their Vestry. Having a younger opinion on the matters of the Church is important to fuel new ideas. With the advancements in our school systems and the rate at which we move through materials in our schools these days, we are able understand financial structures much more easily than is assumed of us. And everyone’s first concern is always about money. But we lose focus in the ministry. God will provide if we fill people’s hearts with the faith and the glory of God, and sometimes as adults, you lose sight of that.

(Amy) As well as encouraging support for Youth involvement in the church community, the Official Youth Presence would like to focus on Evangelism. According to the Blue Book, from 2003 to 2007 Sunday morning Service attendance has declined 10.5%, and we believe that it is important to promote the Episcopal Church to those of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures. Having a variety of different church services with different rites, styles and music can grow the Episcopal Church. I’m not saying you have to enjoy a 5 p.m. contemporary service with guitars, but if we are all open and willing to the different ways that God moves through people, we can expand the Episcopal Church to new brothers and sisters in Christ.

(Jackie) The third topic we would like to encourage in the Church is Outreach and Human Rights. We believe that outreach into the community, locally, nationally, and internationally is important. Most Episcopal churches are open only during hours of worship. Imagine if all Episcopal Churches were seven day a week churches. With grounds open to Boy Scouts, AA, Al-anon youth groups and even others faith communities; we would put the Episcopal Church on the map as an inclusive and supportive community for every one of God’s children.

(Amy) I traveled to New Orleans with the St. Martin’s Youth Group during my Spring break and worked through All Souls Church in the lower ninth ward. Together we worked on removing graffiti from the walls of All Soul’s Church, a renovated Walgreen’s, sanding dry wall in a newly reconstructed home and tutoring elementary school children. Seeing the lower ninth ward and meeting so many people who live there I became aware of how much help is still needed in New Orleans. The work that the ECW is doing with the Jericho Road Housing Initiative in New Orleans is amazing.

(Jackie) There are also easier ways to care about Human Rights without leaving your neighborhood, such as Fair Trade Certified goods. Fair Trade products make sure that people around the world are getting fair wages for their work, instead of big companies exploiting developing countries. Making sure you buy fair trade certified is a simply way that you can help people around the world. Puerto Rico’s ECW also does work with transporting basic needs to other nearby islands and providing support for people. On holidays they provide food and happiness to sailors that live on their boats during hard times.

(Amy) Now this isn’t about us as two individuals, it’s about us as a community of youth that yearn for an equal voice in the Episcopal Church. We have amazing potential to do great things and most of us have already started. The passion and faith we have in our hearts is immeasurable, but the support we have is dwindling. We believe it is important to involve younger women in ECW. The ECW is a fantastic group involved in our community and having after work or after church meetings would allow younger women in Christ to participate in such an inspiring group.

(Jackie) We were shocked to discover that the average age of deputies at General Convention is 65 and only 2% of people at this convention are under 25 years of age. Among the 18 official youth presence we are head acolytes, vestry members, and Sunday school teachers. We have organized Diocesan youth events and started Acolyte Olympics. Together we are the leaders of the Church. With our new and fresh ideas, we could fuel the growth of the Episcopal Church at an alarming rate. We aren’t the church of the future. We are the church of today. By listening to what the youth have to say and giving them the opportunities to lead, the Episcopal Church could grow and flourish in new and exciting ways that it has never experienced.

(Amy) As young women leaders in the church we ask for your encouragement as we grow and learn in our faith. We ask for your prayers as we continue to do good work and make a difference for youth and women alike.

Thank you again for this wonderful opportunity to speak to you. We appreciate all your support for young people in the Church and we look forward to doing good work with our newfound sisters in Christ.

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