This Youth Address 2020 was written by 7 youth of our diocese and presente live during the 114th Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta on November 14, 2020.
In the span of just a few weeks, the end of the year and entering into the first weekend of January, is the heart of what we do as a Youth Commission. During 2019 into 2020, we led 2 retreats at Camp Mikell. The theme: Where is the Love? We spoke of different kinds of love shown throughout the bible such as: Agape, God’s Love, and Phillias, friendship love. We learned that love can be found in the most unusual places.
In February, Happening took place at Camp Mikell with the theme “Life in You”. The song of the weekend was “Beautiful Things” reminding us that God makes Beautiful Things out of dust and out of us. God worked through every single youth and youth leader there and left us with that “On Top of the Mountain” faith high that keeps us coming back.
In March, things changed. As the pandemic grew, school and church communities went online. We lost an in-person New Beginnings - a middle school retreat led by high schoolers. This retreat at Camp Mikell gathers over 150 youth and youth leaders. Here is Carter to talk to you about what happened next:
Carter, Cathedral of St. Philip
I remember team training for New Beginnings earlier this year. There were going to be some changes due to Covid-19, but I was thankful that we would be together. Then a week went by and New Beginnings was canceled. I was crushed. All of the costumes I had gathered for Skits sat on my bed. Of course I understood that canceling the in-person NB was important, but it was still hard.
Thankfully we took the weekend to social media and it was good for people. However, this fall we faced the same problem. This time, the New Beginnings Team was prepared. We planned fun skits, talks, and sent care packages to participants. We adapted to an online format and worshiped God in a new way and it brought us all joy!
By April, we were adjusting as a Commission by offering Compline Zoom Nights with prayer, music, program, and small groups. This quickly became a weekly event with the first one having over 150 people in attendance! This is what filled our cups at the beginning of the Pandemic and we continue to gather for these check-ins today. Here is Julia to tell you how these online gatherings impact her faith.
Julia, St. David’s
Before covid, I had just started getting more involved in church by attending services and youth group and I had just attended Happening. Not being able to do these things was hard for me but having Zoom Nights gave me, and others, a way to feel connected with the youth community of the Episcopal Church. It helped us feel less isolated during this stressful time and created a space for us to share what was going on in our lives and the world.
As racial injustice took center stage, these online spaces gave us a chance to be brave and share what we were experiencing and discuss what we could do as a community of faith. I participated in the Dismantling Racism Youth Curriculum as a combined group with St. Catherine’s and St. David’s. We watched the videos, had discussions, began to unpack the history, and learned ways we could take action in our lives.
As we continued to move forward as young people in the church during multiple pandemics, it became clear that many of us were stepping up in big ways in church leadership. We have Bailey here to talk about what that has meant for her:
Bailey, St. Patrick’s
I believe I am the best and most faithful version of myself when I am around people in my church and diocesan community. Not being able to see any of these people I usually see had weakened my connection with God. During this time, however, I was on vestry for my church at St. Patrick’s and was able to help with its online gatherings, which took an undeniable amount of perseverance. I sang and recorded camp songs and encouraged other disconnected youth to join in. I was often thinking to myself, “what’s the point of planning services and zoom activities if we can’t be together?” The point is that by stepping up to serve I helped people in my church feel connected to each other and the spirit in new ways. I found that serving compassionately on a small scale made a large difference to members of my congregation. Helping my church community, in turn, helped me, too. I began to see God through others despite being on a screen, and my faith has since been strengthened by reconnecting with God’s people.
As the year progressed, the reality of just how long we might be away from one another set in. We were heartbroken. We knew that this meant postponing diocesan youth events until further notice, and this combined with the pressures of school and an upcoming election brought even more stress into our lives. Here is Libby to share some of what that has looked like.
Libby, St. Francis Macon
Last month, I felt as if I was spiraling weekly. I convinced myself that not receiving an A on one test would cost me my future. After living through weeks of trying a new organizational plan only to land myself in the same spiral a week later, I believed that I’d run out of options. With tears burning my eyes, I thought to myself, “No matter how hard I’m trying, it feels like nothing I do is working.”
I laid in bed later that night and realized I had not tried praying to God. For the first time in over a year, I sat and talked to God about my worries, my strengths, my hopes, and my stresses. I asked for forgiveness and I asked for help. God helped me realize regardless of an A or F, that I was ENOUGH. Our God knows you and knows how to heal you. It is hard to turn away from the business of our everyday lives and even harder to maintain our hope and faith in the world. But, even when it’s hard, God is always waiting to hear your story and is seeking ways to help you.
Gabby , St. Simon’s Conyers
We as a commission know that Libby’s experience is similar to many others during this time of anxiety and new stressors. As a Commission, we have dove into the meaning of “loving your neighbor as yourself”. We want to embody this golden rule by sharing our personal stories, revelations, hopes, joys, and challenges with one another. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is this: becoming okay with not knowing. It feels like there is something outside of our control making life that much harder. If only we could know exactly why that is. If only we could know how to fix it. Sadly, we don’t.
Will, Christ Church Norcross
Isiah 41:10 reminds us that God is always with and hoping to strengthen us. You can be reassured that you aren’t struggling alone. God loves you with no conditions, with all your beautiful flaws and all your beautiful perfections. God is encouraging you every moment of every day.
We are rooting for the young people and all people of our diocese. We love you and are hoping your relationship with God grows.
It has now been 9 months since we’ve gathered as a diocesan youth community. People are tired. We are tired of gathering online. But as we see a drop off in connecting online, how can we as diocesan youth leadership remind this community of our purpose to include and love all people? Glad you asked. Leadership went back to the drawing board and came up with ways to offer things without showing up to another Zoom. This includes social media special releases like 1-Minute Devotions every Monday, Morning Exercise videos, and youth led virtual choirs.
The Youth Commission also sent care packages to youth across the diocese. Just last Sunday, we gathered as a small group to send out notes of love, new eycdioatl facemasks, and blank postcards for young people to share the love of Christ with someone through old fashioned mail. Right now, there are 100’s of them in the mail with reminders of all this community represents: neighborliness.
So here we are. Afflicted, but not crushed. Perplexed but not despaired. We are persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down but never destroyed. We will continue to be the light of Christ. We will love our neighbor, any and every way we can. Our next online event is Happening 1 Day with the theme from the poem “Footprints in the Sand” in which we are reminded that no matter how far we may stray or how little our faith may be, that God is there to carry us through. Our hope is to remind the Diocesan Youth Community to not be discouraged, but to remember that “On top of the mountain” God-Given feeling. That regardless of when the next Happening or diocesan youth event may occur, that we as a family of believers bound by love and are here to support each other, as neighbors.
The first thing we talked about this morning was the theme of our January retreat - Where is the Love? Which during this pandemic with a lack of social connection, the upheaval of a fight for social justice, and so much more, made this question seem all too applicable to the year 2020. Yet continually, this Commission has risen to the challenge to work through all of the barriers to show love and to BE the love of Diocesan Youth Ministry. The second greatest commandment of all is to love your neighbor as yourself. And we as a Commission are determined, no matter what the rest of this year may bring, to continue to seek and spread the all-inclusive and unconditional love of Jesus Christ to every youth of our Diocese.