By Katie Teal, University of North Georgia
Have you ever had an experience where you had no choice but to answer God’s call? I don’t mean just acknowledging God’s voice or presence in your life but actually putting God’s will into action in your day to day life. I had one of these experiences at Lift Every Voice. LEV is a three year initiative on dismantling racism that was started in the Diocese of North Carolina in 2015. I had the great privilege of participating in the final program this summer which was aimed at training the participants to be leaders in dismantling racism in their own communities. The participants came from Episcopal Dioceses across the US, South Africa and Botswana. I entered the Haw River Retreat Center, where it was held, full of excitement and curiosity and I left filled with hope and some fear because I knew those four days in North Carolina were not just a chance to connect with people from different parts of the world; they were a call to action from God that I could not ignore.
Throughout the retreat I could feel God tugging at my heart and challenging me. As Christian’s we know that we are called to love our neighbors and that this love is supposed to have no limits. I thought this was an easy call to answer but during LEV I realized it’s not. God’s call to love is an active call. It’s requires more than just saying “I love my neighbor”; that is the easy part. God places no boundaries on love so when God says “Love thy neighbor” it means love thy neighbor near and far, red or blue, black or white, documented or undocumented, Christian or Muslim, rich or poor, friend or stranger, alike or different. We live in a world of harsh polarizations and are placed into camps of us and them, which makes it so easy to be swept up in the waves of anger that crash across our communities, but we share this one Island Earth; we are one people, made by one God.
One of the things we learned about during LEV is the spirit of Ubuntu. In essence, it means “I am because we are.” It is this beautiful way of life that recognizes how our humanity is bound up together and that my value in life is increased by seeing the value in the life of my neighbor. It is so much easier to see God in the neighbor who shares the same political views, or looks like you or has some similarity to you but we are all made in God’s image; no exceptions. As we talked about Ubuntu and our connectedness through God, I began to wonder how often I failed to recognize God in my neighbor.
Growing up in the south, particular in small towns, I have been exposed to the undercurrent of racism that plagues this culture. Racism is not always the blatant hatred we see in news stories or hear about from the Civil Rights period. It is, often times, subtle and so engrained in the everyday interactions that it goes unnoticed or has been accepted as a way of life that will never change. I wasn’t aware of these subtleties in my life until I became involved with programs like Kids4Peace and Lift Every Voice. There was a time in my life where someone wearing a hijab made me nervous. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know anything about Islam but the TV told me Muslims were the bad guys. Then, my family became involved with Kids4Peace and I got to know some of my Muslim neighbors. I listened to their stories and saw God in their faces. There was a time when I judged a fellow student’s capabilities based of her skin color. I didn’t realize that was what I was doing at the time, but people of color were not in the gifted and AP classes at my high school and it wasn’t until a college education class that I realized how much this impacted my judgements of fellow students. It is not easy to admit this. No one wants to admit to being racist at any point in life, whether it was in thought or action, because we all know it is wrong. But I have to admit this. I have to acknowledge the moments in my life when I let race determine how I thought about a person or treated someone. Reconciliation begins with honesty and it is not a onetime action. Reconciliation is a way of life. It is recognizing our need for one another and being able to lay down that shame. It is acknowledging the past and the hatred that continues to divide us but refusing to let it shape our future. It is a continual offering of peace and constant effort to see God, even in those who refuse to do the same.
Desmond Tutu said “we are made different to know our need of one another” and Lift Every Voice brought this quote to life for me. We were all of different ages, from different parts of the world and cultural backgrounds but we came together to learn. Our differences were not what divided us but what brought us together and made it such a beautiful time. God was present in the different accents and languages, the songs from each country and the dances they inspired, and in the heart and soul of each person. I am no longer in the safe bubble LEV created and it is terrifying to think of the work ahead of me but God called and I answered. So as I, and the other LEV participants, go back into our towns and communities I offer my prayers that we may all become vessels of God’s love. That we will recognize God in our neighbor and remember to listen to hear, not to respond. That we enter the world with patience and courage as we face those who use our differences to create barriers. That we may be instruments of peace and always know in our hearts that I am, because we are, because God is.
By Clare Reid, Emory University
If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I was ridiculously involved with the Episcopal Church community when I was in high school. I went to seven Happenings, was Rector of Happening 63, a member of the Happening Steering Committee, I was on the Youth Commission, I went to every single Reunion, I was heavily involved with EYC at my church, I was a member of my church choir, and I was at Camp Mikell for multiple weeks every summer since 2006. Diocesan kickball tournament? I was there, every year. Tubing trip? You bet. I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself if I hadn’t been surrounded by Episcopalians my age at least once a week.
Flash forward a few years, and I’m a sophomore at Emory now. I’m still highly involved in Episcopal life – I’m in a church choir, attend church every Sunday, and I was on the Planning Team for the recent Campus Ministries retreat. And I’m very involved with the Emory Canterbury Club, but there’s a catch to that one. I am currently the only undergraduate member of Canterbury.
Now, that’s not to say that Emory Canterbury doesn’t exist. Two incredible graduate students, plus our wonderful chaplain, meet with me once a week at various restaurants around Emory to eat and chat about theology and the church today. The graduate student program which also meets separately once a week is healthy and even growing. And we also have programming, believe it or not – successful programming, at that. We’ve been hosting, in partnership with Fearless Dialogues, an event called the Round Table every month where we discuss the deep questions of life. Our most successful event had around 70 people attend, and I’m really proud of that.
But being the only undergraduate member of Canterbury has definitely not been ideal. It’s been really alienating to not be able to talk with other people about my faith very often. I look at my friends who call their 10- or 15-person clubs “super small,” and then I look at my little club and can’t help but feel like I’m doing something wrong, like maybe if I had sent out one more email or talked to that uninterested student one more time, Emory Canterbury would somehow magically be successful. It is, in a word, incredibly frustrating.
So this year, when I got an email telling me that I had been nominated to be the Episcopal representative on Emory’s Inter-Religious Council, I had to laugh a little. Of course I had been nominated. Who else was there to be on the council? I was excited, sure, but pretty apprehensive when I showed up to the first IRC meeting. I was already used to being the only Christian among my friends, to being asked over and over “Why do you have to wear that cross every day?” and “Wow, you’re really into that Jesus stuff, aren’t you?” I was expecting more of the same alienation, feeling a little like I was adrift in a little Episcopal boat in a huge sea.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. IRC has been the most incredible experience that I could have asked for as a person of faith. It’s not just a free dinner every Monday, and it’s not just a group of people who sit around a table and chat idly about our religions. It is an incredibly enriching and lively group that changes my life, my worldview, and my way of thinking every time I step into the room.
IRC is a handpicked group of undergraduate students from almost every religious student organization on campus. There are Christians of every denomination – Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterian, Mormon, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Non-Denominational, and, yes, Episcopalian – and Jewish people of Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox backgrounds. There are Hindus from every region and country, Muslims of many sects, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, deists, and agnostics. And all of us love each other, support each other, and always, always listen. Every week, we discuss how our faiths view different topics, such as art, immigration, outsiders, or history. We learn how to greater accept, make space for, and defend each other’s faiths. We support the events of the groups represented in the council, and attend each other’s religious services to learn even more about the faiths we represent together.
IRC has become my main faith community at Emory, now. I have learned so much about both my faith and the faiths of the people around me. And hearing that the tenets of so many other faiths coincide with ours – values like unconditional love, acceptance, living a life dedicated to God, giving to charity, and helping people in need – gives me more and more faith in the idea of a higher power every time we discuss it. And the fact that we keep coming back to each other every week, despite our busy schedules and the fact that we all come from so many different backgrounds, is pretty affirming as well.
Every year, during Spring Break, IRC takes a trip together, and this year, I decided to go along. Just like everything else that IRC does, the trip was incredibly eye-opening, relationship-strengthening, and, most of all, fun. Our topic for the trip was immigration, and throughout the four days we spent in New York City, we visited Ellis Island, toured the United Nations, walked through the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and attended workshops at the United Nations Church Center. We heard from refugee and immigration advocates and lawyers, and learned more about immigration history and current law than I had ever learned in any history class.
Of course, that isn’t to say that we didn’t also have fun. We visited the Met, saw a comedy show at the Upright Citizens Brigade, took pictures in Times Square, went to Compline at Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church, and, of course, ate our way through just about every neighborhood in Manhattan – all the while, making an absurd amount of religion-related jokes. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to have a group of people with you that finally think it’s hilarious when someone cracks a joke about incense. At one point, we quite literally danced through the Upper East Side singing our favorite hymns. I’m sure people thought we were off our rockers when we were laughing on the subway about our various holidays, from Hanukkah to Diwali to Eid al-Fitr to Easter, and the ridiculousness that ensues at each and every one of them. Being with people who love their faiths with a passion, no matter what faiths they’re from, is so unbelievably refreshing.
When we got home from New York, all of us sat down on the following Monday at IRC for dinner again, like usual. It felt like a little family, cracking jokes about how much one of our advisors loves eating chocolate and how it makes Ramadan especially hard for him, or how the priest in charge is so ridiculously proud of the fact that she’s from Mississippi. It really feels like home, being with these people and sharing this sacred time that we have with them. And when two Jewish representatives and I had a huge a cappella performance the other night, the Catholic representative and the Presbyterian representative were sitting right in the front to cheer us on and give us a huge hug after the show. That’s what religion is all about, isn’t it? Loving the people around you unconditionally, and celebrating and supporting them in every aspect of their lives? I think so.
It’s so easy for us to sit tight in our little Episcopal bubble – or any other bubble of faith, to be honest. It’s so easy to consider religious time to be only when we are with people of our same faith. But I have to tell you, inter-religious work has quickly become one of the most important facets of my life both on campus and off. It has enriched and educated me in so many unimaginable ways. If there’s one thing I can tell people to do, it’s to get out and learn from people with faiths that are different from your own. It will change your life. Spend holy time with them. Worship with them. Be their friend. It will strengthen and fulfill your faith in so many new ways, and it is absolutely the easiest way to make just about any group of people into a sacred community. “When two are gathered together in my name, I am there among them” doesn’t just have to refer to Episcopalians. It can refer to anyone who has faith and is glad to share their joy for religion with you. So go forth and share it.
By Matthew Coutu, KSU
After attending my fair share of youth events in the past, I had high hopes for a new retreat that was aimed towards young adults. Since attending a few province networking conventions, I knew just how difficult it could be to put together a retreat aimed towards college-aged students. As skeptical as I was upon arrival, my experience couldn’t have been any better!
It had been a while since I’d last made a trip up to Mikell, so I was excited to finally be back and see some old friends. Following a morning class on Friday, my friends and I from the KSU Canterbury Club loaded up our cars and headed up to Toccoa for the first ever Diocesan Young Adult Retreat. The ride up was a blast, but I was nowhere near prepared for the amount of fun I would have during the weekend as a whole.
We were all put into small groups and ended up discussing things that were pretty relevant to people of our age group. That weekend we talked about keeping a balanced life, staying true to our faiths, and even the consideration of discernment. I was pretty pleased with how seriously our group handled the discussions, and because of this, I got a lot out of it. At times, the conversations got pretty deep, and through this, our group got pretty close.
The weekend as a whole was organized flawlessly. There was a perfect medium between free time and organized time. As a college student, I was happy that we were given enough liberty to do what we wanted within reason, such as playing disc golf and hiking to the cross.
Meeting new friends from other colleges around the diocese was amazing, and it was awesome to reconnect with old ones as well. The staff who designed this retreat did a phenomenal job, and I’m sure that it got others interested in getting involved too! This fall, I will be transferring to a university in a different diocese, but you can bet that I’ll be back for the next young adult retreat in the future.
By Franklin Lowe, UGA
I grew up in a Baptist church south of Atlanta. It had 1970s, multi-colored, plexiglass windows with patterns like tie-dye gone wrong. I became an Episcopalian in an odd but lovely church in the diocese of Alabama. It came with tall, wavy and translucent windows, with swirly outlines of trees beyond the glass. Now, as a sometimes grad student in Athens, I am attending services and attempting to shove myself into parish life at Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Finally, a church with proper stained glass windows! Over a century old, styled after Tiffany, and bursting with color-blocked symbolism. One short arm of the nave's Latin cross depicted the resurrection, and opposite it is the scene from Bethany: Jesus and the twin hospitalities of Mary and Martha. I've often described myself as much more of a Martha than a Mary, citing this story and it's explanation of the two polar opposite options for lay involvement. Yet, even I understand that the world and the church are better off when both Martha's and Mary's have a seat at the table and a spot on the vestry.
This past weekend, at the inaugural Campus Ministries retreat and during a stretch of free time in between our dynamic, energetically thoughtful small group sessions, I found myself in the company of the Martha's and Mary's and Anna's and Lydia's of today's church. On lumpy leftover sofas, I bonded with three female undergrads currently leading three unique campus ministries from across the diocese, each with its own challenges, situations, and inspirations. One of us had a solid crew but wanted to reach out to new students. One of us was struggling with the off-putting influence of another denomination's campus ministry. One of us was trying to rebuild after a shift in leadership. One of us lacked a missioner or a welcoming parish. But we also had advice. And ideas. And lists and plans and contacts and rounds of "You got this! You go girl!"
For that hour and a half, we were the church, the leaders and the servants, the ones sitting at the feet of Christ and the ones cutting off the crust on the pimento cheese sandwiches. We were the church in all its humble goodness because we shared, we cared, we listened, and planned. And then, as we all must do, we hugged and promised to call, and went back into the world, each to our own college or Canterbury Club, our inner lights all the brighter.
By Caroline Carter, GCSU
The Episcopal Church found me when, I felt empty, invaluable, and when God was the last thing on my mind. Despite my brokenness the church was able to turn my warped perceptions of me and life toward something greater than myself; toward God. Since then my faith has had it’s ups and downs, but has remained a constant in my life.
A different kind of challenge arose when I entered college. I didn’t have my home church or youth group anymore to help me through step by step. It was time for me to leave where my faith was first cultivated and start a new chapter on my journey. I have been lucky enough to find ministries on campus that have helped keep me pointed towards God. One of them being my college’s Canterbury club, which I have had the great opportunity to help start and run. This group has kept me centered in my passion for Episcopal ministry even though I am in a brand new place.
When My college’s Canterbury club heard that a young adult’s retreat for the diocese was happening at Camp Mikell we were so excited to go. For me, Camp Mikell is one of those rare places where God’s presence is completely palpable. Through the ministry done there I have been able to grow in my faith more than I ever had thought possible.
So, at first it was the place that drew me to this retreat, but as the weekend started it became much more to me. I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the routine of things; wake up, go to class, eat, sleep, repeat; this routine can create a bubble in our lives. In this bubble lives ourselves and the routine, nothing can come in and nothing can come out; that is unless we take the extra (and not always easy) effort to pop it.
This retreat taught me that this effort does not have to be made alone. Seeing Canterbury clubs from different campuses come together as one, helped me remember how great the Episcopal community really is. God calls us into fellowship, Hebrews 10:24-25 says “… let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up on meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the day approaching.” This weekend really honed in on the kind of encouragement this verse speaks about. Through both small group conversations and group worship I was able to clearly see the support that the Episcopal community provides. The Episcopal community never ceases to amaze me when it comes to welcoming people. Whether you have never stepped foot in church or if you consider it your home, I have found that this group of believers will always treat you like family.
During this retreat God was clearly shown. He showed himself not only in the beautiful nature that makes up Camp Mikell, but also in the beautiful people that were there. Every person there reminded me of God’s unconditional and constant love. Through their encouragement I was able to break through my “routine bubble” and find the value in going outside of my comfort zone. The Episcopal Church, and the Christian Church as a whole, has changed my life for the better, and I will be forever grateful for that.
By Katie Teal, UNG
I work in the nursery at a Presbyterian church on Sunday’s and sometimes during the week I go over to the church to organize the nursery or just to have a quiet space to decompress or study. I was there a couple of weeks ago with the 15 month old I watch during the week when I heard a knock on the front door of the church. This church sits on a hill just off of the downtown square and is a small parish and it is unusual for anyone to come by the church during the week. I walked to the front of the church and saw a woman tentatively opening the door. She couldn’t see me yet, and called out “Hello, I need help!” I ushered her in to the church asking what she needed, assuming she was physically hurt and needed medical attention. That would have been easier to deal with, a call to 911 and a promise for prayers but she needed food, shelter, gas for her car. She needed more than a phone call. She needed comfort and the bare necessities we so often take for granted. She told me bits of her story in between sighs and holding back tears. Her husband had passed away recently and she was looking for food and shelter. She’d been living with her son but they lost their home. She didn’t say how long she had been walking, but her car was out of gas and she looked weary.
I have volunteered at soup kitchens, food drives, clothes drives and all other manner of supporting programs that provide for those in need but this was the first time I was the initial contact for someone looking for help. I did everything I could in that moment but I feel as though I failed this woman. That everything was not enough.
After speaking with this woman for a couple of minutes and offering her water and a place to sit, I called a member of the church to see what help was available to offer. I was told to direct her to The Community Helping Place, which is the local organization that services the homeless and needy. I called CHP but did not get an answer for any of their lines so I left messages. As I frantically dialed numbers, my phone in one hand and a baby in the other, I thought for the first time of my safety. How did I know this woman was being honest? And I felt ashamed. As a Christian, I have been taught to see God in the face of strangers, to provide hospitality to those in need, but the world has taught me to be cautious and see danger in the face of a stranger. How do I reconcile this? And when did I come to live in this world of doubt? When did I leave behind the little girl I once was who spoke to strangers as though they were old friends and never hesitated to help someone? Has the world changed or have I? I no longer wanted to be alone in the church with this woman who was only seeking help.
I feel like I failed this woman with my doubt and inability to offer more than a phone call. Every church in town is told to direct people to the Community Helping Place because they have resources to access a person’s need and provide more long term care. But in that moment, that did not seem like enough. This woman was standing enough front of me burdened with the weight of grief and uncertainty and that unanswered phone call would do nothing to help support her. As she walked away with nothing more than a piece of paper with the CHP phone number scribbled on it, I felt sick to my stomach. I offered what I could but it was not enough. I do not know if that woman found food and shelter. I do not know if she is still hungry and cold.
I have struggled since then to come to terms with what happened. I have been told by several people that I did all I could and not to beat myself but the image of that woman walking away empty handed makes that hard to do. I am disheartened that the procedures seem to be aimed at protecting the helper from scams rather than simply providing help. I know logically this makes since but in my heart I fear I wasn’t able to help someone who desperately needed it. I am not naïve enough to think every person who knocks is sincere in their pleas but I would rather give to every person who asks than risk turning away someone in need. Is the world so dangerous and cold that we have to be this cautious or have we been so blinded by the negative cases that we can no longer see that the good in this world far out ways the bad?
By Maggie Paul, Cathedral of St. Philip
A couple weeks ago, I embarked on an adventure with two youth from the Diocese, whom I’d only met maybe twice, and a fellow youth worker, whom I’ve known for a while. We went on a road trip to Camp Weed in Live Oak, Florida to attend the National Happening Leadership Conference.
The conference serves as a time for people from Dioceses around the country to come together and talk about how Happening works there, bounce ideas off each other, and to rejuvenate their passion for the movement.
Happening, as you may know, is a pretty big deal in our Diocese. It’s gone through many waves of change and growth, as any program does. I serve on the Design Team for Happening in the diocese, and we are always looking for ways to make it better.
While at National Happening, I met youth and adults from various states, and the guy who started the whole Happening movement. I saw friends that I’ve known most of my life, and I made friends I hope to have the rest of my life.
We shared stories of our own Happenings, how we experienced them, and how we want to improve them. We listened to many talks encouraging us to breakaway from apathy and to respond when God asks “Whom shall I send?”
The conference had business meetings, but it also had workshops on how to better our programs and showing us how other dioceses run theirs. They didn’t claim to have all the answers, but all of the knowledge of the youth and adults who had been brought together made for an enriching learning experience.
One of my favorite parts of the conference was when we had a night of prayer stations. They were all around the Youth Pavilion at Camp Weed, which is basically a gym. I’ve been holding a lot of anxiety going into this new year, and it was really nice to have a quiet time to pray in so many different ways to calm my anxiety.
During my times of reflection, I decided that I wanted to apply for the Happening National Committee. I was worried about taking on more responsibilities as I enter the new year, but I love the Happening movement. I want to do whatever I can to help with it. I’m glad that I applied because I was selected to be on the committee!
The whole conference was an enriching and rejuvenating experience that helped me get even more excited about the upcoming program year and for Happening in our diocese. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go and learn and connect with so many other people. I hope that I and the others who attended the conference pass along what we’ve learned and remember that when God is searching for someone to send out into the world that we respond with “Here I am, Lord”
By Katie Teal, University of North Georgia
We have waited.
We have waited through the bleak winter and pious forty days. We have waited and now spring has arrived. We have celebrated Christ’s resurrection but what is our course now that Easter has come?
There is a plan during Lent. Forty days of sacrifice, prayer, and penitence. Forty days of waiting. But now the bells have been rung and the Alleluia’s sung and I feel lost.
I did not give up anything for Lent this year but instead spent my time finally taking the steps to understand and manage the anxiety that has plagued my life since my grandparents’ passing in the summer of 2013. We lost them within 2 and a half months of each other. My first taste of grief was a huge, bitter bite that I couldn’t spit out. It strangled me, sat in my chest, wrapping around my heart and lungs, churning in my stomach. It was the needle poking my side, pulling thread taught, tensing my eyebrows together. The wind up crank in my back forcing my shoulders up, keeping my mind running at all hours. I craved relief from the ache in my heart and yet was unwilling to let go of that pain. I needed to hurt at first but then I didn’t know how to stop and the grief infiltrated every part of my being. I was tired, lethargic, unable to focus and all of the sudden any amount of stress was overwhelming. This became my norm. I didn’t know the fog that covered my past two years had a name.
I didn’t know what to call the moments when I cried and couldn’t seem to suck in enough air.
Depression was my shadow. I couldn't always see it but I knew it was there dancing around waiting to cast it's far reaching darkness over what lay in front of me. I spent two years telling myself I was fine. That the panic attacks were a normal part of college and what I was going through wasn't severe enough to need intervention. I hid the anxiety and hurt from those I love. I created my own tomb. Somehow it seemed safer to sit in the darkness than to step into the light and accept the help I so desperately needed.
This Lent, I stared my anxiety in the face and called it by it's name. I finally accepted the help I had craved but had run from these past two years and now I'm left wondering what my next step needs to be.
I attended the Easter Vigil service this year and the priest pointed out the flowers. Beautiful arrangements boasting lilies, greenery, and palms as well as the stripped, harsh, solemn branches left from Lent. He made the point that as we celebrate Christ's resurrection the grief of his crucifixion is still with us but now it is framed in the hope Easter gives us. New life awaits us.
The darkness of pain and grief can be all consuming but Easter is a reminder of God's love. As we move forward in this Easter season let us not forget the grief and sacrifice of the Lenten season but use it as our foundation for growth. We are called to love like Jesus and I think that means at times we have to embrace the doubt, anxiety, and grief that are so common place in the lives of young adults. Jesus cried out "my God why have you forsaken me?" How often have I doubted God's presence in my life? How often have I questioned God's call to me? It is okay to doubt and fear and hurt but it's important to remember those moments. To recognize God was there even when I couldn't see past the shadow of my grief. God loved me and hurt with me and when I was ready provided me with a beautiful reminder of God's unconditional love and promise of life everlasting.
By Katie Teal, University of North Georgia
I wonder if God knew.
I wonder if He knew when He pushed the plates together, forcing the mountains up, invading the celestial space.
I wonder if He knew when He set the river coursing, the mighty Tugaloo carving through the stone.
I wonder if He knew when He spread the seeds that would sprout and grow into sheltering trees.
I wonder if He knew the laughter that would echo of the hills.
I wonder if He knew the hours that would be spent exploring the creek.
I wonder if He knew the cross that would sit at the top of the mountain.
I wonder if He knew the cabins that would provide refuge on rainy, summer nights.
I wonder if He knew the stories that would be shared and the art that would be created.
I wonder if He knew the friendships that would be forged.
I wonder if He knew the unconditional love that would flow as fluid as the creek.
I wonder if He knew the healing that would happen in this sacred place.
I wonder if He knew the lives that would be shaped and molded.
I wonder if He knew the people who would go forth in peace to share God’s love.
By Kate Beecham, Mikell Summer Staffer & UGA Student
Each day you wake up a version of yourself senior to the one that had fallen asleep the night before. Time passes, and consequently we grow up. Aging is a reality that is ingrained in our humanity, and rarely do we give it much conscious thought. However, this unavoidable truth has a tendency to sneak up on us at unexpected times and completely dominate our thoughts. We are forced to take stock over where we’ve been, where we are going, and what we are doing in the mean time.
This past weekend I attended DYC up at Camp Mikell. Unlike most of my friends who have grown up going to Camp Mikell, I was a horrible homesick camper and decided that camp was not my thing after day one. Now as a young adult, I spend a lot more time up at camp, constantly creating memories off of new experiences. Camp isn’t a place that takes me back to the good ol’ days, but rather allows me to live them in real time. So I was surprised when I found myself amidst one of these “taking stock” experiences at camp. It was the first night of DYC and I was the last one to move my things into the cabin. The only bed that was still open was one I had stayed in 3 years before, when my life was a complete 180 from the one I’m living today. I felt as if my 17-year-old self and my 20-year-old self were standing face to face, not even realizing whom the other was. I’d like to name college as the driving force behind all this change.
Going off to college is the first time for many of us that we are able to make decisions for ourselves, which can have a kaleidoscopic array of outcomes. For many young adults who grew up in the church, we now tend to find ourselves not only distant from the 8am wake-up calls on Sunday morning to make it to the service on-time, but also from the faith life that we once practiced habitually.
At DYC this past weekend, a group of 20 young adults came together to discuss the realities of being a college student and an Episcopalian, and what our role in the church looks like. Our small group consisted of different religious faiths, different stages in life, and different cities from all over the southeast. Yet we all seemed to be facing the same issue: our involvement in the church wasn’t what it used to be. Is this because we don’t seem to relate to the current programs being offered? Have we decided that church isn’t a number one priority with this phase in our life? Well whatever the reason, the Church has noticed. The Diocese of Atlanta has seen with their own eyes that the number of 20-somethings are diminishing from the pews and they are ready to do something about it. We talked in small group about how we want to grow in our faith, whether that means having a weekly bible study that challenges us to think a little deeper, or going out for coffee with someone who will listen to what’s on our mind that day.
I know for me I have let my faith slip behind the demands of nursing school and working shifts in the hospital. I keep my mind so busy that sometimes the thought of going to church doesn’t even cross my mind on a Sunday morning. But when I think about my future and when the “right” time to start going to church again will be, I don’t see my life slowing down anytime soon. Next will be graduation, working a full time job as an RN, going to grad school, hopefully getting married, having kids... If I can’t make my faith a priority now, when will if? When I imagine being a mom one day, I think about the unconditional love, excitement, hope, and joy I feel for my child. I wonder if one day I will have another “taking stock” moment, realizing that there is an awesome God that feels all those same things MULTIPLIED for me (His Child), but I have missed out on opportunities to grow in relationship with him because of the craziness of life and the freedom to make my own choices.
So why does all this matter? Because now is the time to prioritize. Now is the time to ask and wonder about our faith. Now is the time to see if the church has an active role in our lives again because the Church is reaching out to us. They are looking for places to meet us half way. The Diocese of Atlanta wants to discover ways to love up on the young adults and fill us with the support, guidance, information that we need. So keep an eye out. Check the Diocesan website for events that you might be interested in. Stay open-minded for an invitation that you might find it easy to pass you by. Try to reimagine what your college life might look like if you allow yourself the opportunity to become rooted in a community that greets you with open arms and a God that knows you by name.