By Ted Shipley, St. Columba's
“We challenge ourselves and the world to love like Jesus as we worship joyfully, serve compassionately, and grow spiritually.” This is the Diocese of Atlanta purpose statement. In today’s Gospel, Jesus informs his disciples the importance of putting him as their top priority. He promises them eternal life if they discard everything they have to follow him. He challenges them to love like him, and to love with him. Standing in front of everyone here today really puts how large our Diocese is into perspective.
The youth of our Diocese is no different. We are big. We have come together and done remarkable things. Whether it's in January when 10 youth and 5 young adults came together to record 8 songs for youth groups to use for worship or just a “pick me up” kind of day. In this way worship joyfully, spreading our favorite songs around the Diocese. Or in the month of March when over 200 participants from 25 parishes came together for the Hunger Walk. This is an example of one of the ways we serve compassionately in raising over $5,000 that we eventually split between the ministries of Emmaus House and Holy Comforter. In May we had 29 graduates from 20 different churches come together and celebrate the beginning of the next chapter in their life. Yet another way this amazing community worships joyfully. In June we had the diocesan tubing trip where 180 youth from 26 parishes showed out and had Eucharist later that day at Church of the Resurrection. Again, we worshipped joyfully. In July we send over 90 youth and adults out for week of mission work. Middle schoolers made an impact going in our own backyards of Atlanta. The high schoolers traveled to Birmingham and shined God’s light in a community in real need. Mission trips are such an amazing experience beyond explanation. Not only for those that we serve, but the way that they serve us. We learn how we can find got in anyone and anything. Mission trips are a clear explanation of how our Diocese goes out into the world to love like Jesus while “guess what” - Worshiping joyfully, serving compassionately, and growing spiritually. Seeing a trend here?
I have attended diocesan mission trips in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Nashville. I highly recommend every youth group go on their own or join in on the Diocesan Mission Week. In the month of August, over 150 youth from 19 different parishes came together on the Youth Service Day Retreat to serve compassionately by doing the following work: building over 100 hygiene packs for Church of the Common Ground, collecting 600 articles of clothing for Threads of All Saints’ Atlanta, collecting close to 400 books for Emmaus House Freedom School, collecting over 1,000 canned goods for Appleton Episcopal Ministries, and making 1,000 sandwiches for Crossroads Ministries of St. Luke’s Atlanta. We also learned about each ministries we work with that day. We served compassionately. To think that just a number of youth can change that many lives amazes me. Every single youth’s donations or hands helped us reach our goals and benefit the lives of others. If you have not seen it already, a few of my friends within the Diocese and I came together to record a Suicide Prevention Video released the month of September, Suicide Awareness Month. We felt called into action after two of our own took their own life just months apart in early 2016. The video has received over 30,000 views on Facebook alone, and it has been used in 2 high schools. All because we wanted to let everyone know we we will try to love you like Jesus did.
Last month was New Beginnings where 18 churches and 100 youth and adults came up to Camp Mikell to retreat from their lives and connect with God. I have been to New Beginnings and served as a part of their team numerous times. Which leads me to Happening. Happening comes around the corner every November and February and it gets me through my year. Last weekend was Happening 66, where Dylan Walker, a senior and our rector, which means he ran the show, and led us through the weekend. It was one of the best weekends of my life. Camp Mikell is my personal thin place, as Fr. Ken Struble would say. It is where the distance between God and I feels the most thin. Everyone has one, but mine happens to be there, my second home, where I grew up going to Summer camps since I was 8. Going to Happening only made Camp and I’s relationship so much stronger and it introduced God to me in a life-changing way. I can explain it all I want, but it will not do the spiritual fulfillment justice. I highly recommend every youth in our Diocese to come experience Happening - a weekend where youth lead youth, serving compassionately, and we grow so much spiritually. We also work on that unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
I have spent a lot of time talking about diocesan youth programs, but I want to shift to the parish. My church is St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, and Sunday worship and youth group are part of my weekly routine. You can’t just have youth group. You can’t just have diocesan youth programs. You really need Sunday morning worship, youth group, and diocesan youth programs. They all 3 feed you in very different ways. Just trust me on this. I grew up with Fr. Tripp as my guy, still is. Back in the day I did not really appreciate his sermons because I was too busy thinking about some Spongebob episode I just watched. But now I am a Lector at my church and do my best to stay as involved as possible, because Sundays at St. Columba’s are what raised me. Not only Fr. Tripp’s great chants in the mornings, but EYC at night.
Easton Davis, who if you don’t know who that is you are living under a rock, was my youth leader from 7th through 10th grade. It was always just kind of normal to go to church on Sunday mornings and Sunday School every now and then, but my EYC nights became routine because of this man. I always felt like I could relate to him; maybe it was because he sometimes acts my age. On a serious note, it is because of Easton that I am here right now. He kept us engaged in diocesan youth programs year round which led me here today. I’ve always put off all other plans on Sunday nights because I just could not miss EYC. Having a youth leader in my life has played such a role in my walk with God and I know I can go to them with anything. So to recap, I guess you could say Fr. Tripp’s mornings was my introduction to God, and EYC was like wrapping God and I’s relationship in a lot of layers of duct tape. This leads me to being involved in diocesan youth programs. The diocesan events that go on unite these parishes’ relationships together with others outside of their church. This is as part of what Bishop Wright means when he says “drawing the circle wider.” Without going tubing or to Camp Mikell, or anything else, I would not have the relationships with friends and God that I do now.
Today’s gospel is a challenge from Jesus. He challenged us to love those we meet, openly worship him, serve those in need, and grow in him. So, as we leave here today, what do you take away with in regards to youth in the church? I think it starts with believing in youth - their ability to lead, the importance of youth group, and the importance of diocesan youth programs. If we can start there - we can all take up a new challenge - which is living into our diocesan purpose statement using the tools we have that are right in front of us.