Hi, I’m Kathleen Iacobelli and I go to St Catherine ’s in Marietta and I am a member of the Diocesan Youth Commission.
God and my church have given me the opportunity to attend New Beginnings, PYE, Happening, Steps to Lead and EYE as well as my own youth group events and our pilgrimage to Scotland. Each experience has taught me so much about my faith. And through faith, I have learned that to love like Jesus you must first trust that God is already at work in every situation, even when its not readily apparent.
I’d like to share my experience at EYE17. For those of you that don’t know, EYE stands for the Episcopal Youth Event, and it happens every 3 years. Over 1,000 youth gather from across the country to discuss topics in the Episcopal Church. The theme that year was “path to peace” and for freshman me, that sounded like a huge topic to take on in 5 days but I was so excited to go. Upon arriving, I met so many people from all over the country, but there was one thing we all had in common - the Episcopal Church and its mission to spread peace and kindness throughout the world.
This event and the idea of being a peacemaker made me want to participate in more youth events and I found myself checking the diocesan website which, in case you don’t know is EYCDIOATL - one more time for Easton - EYCDIOATL. I was looking for other ways to learn about faith and how I could help others in the church. I signed up for so many events that my mom and dad couldn’t keep them all straight.
One of them was the Province 4 Youth Event. At PYE, I learned how important it is to find my voice and use it as a way to help others. For those who know me, I use my voice a lot. I never seem to stop talking, unless its after a youth event and then, when I talk, it sounds very scratchy. This is because I’ve used all of the voice God has given me to get everyone as excited as I am to be at these wonderful events. But at PYE, my normally loud voice was at a loss for words. After visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights, I had learned so much that it was taking a while to sink in. I felt like I had found a new way to use my voice. I could use it not only to tell others what I knew, but I could use it to connect others on topics they had in common and help them see that they weren’t alone.
I learned all of this through a wonderful activity we did called Posts for Peace. You saw the video earlier from Easton. We spent the first few hours deciding the themes for the 6 posts. After choosing our themes, everyone split into groups to work on a post they felt God called them to. We collaborated on ideas of how to use our voices through art on these giant fence posts that will travel the world to tell our stories. You might see them around Atlanta at a Historical site or on the Beltline. Keep a lookout for them. I had never thought of using my voice through art before. This may be because my artistic ability is about as good as a second grader but it got me thinking if I can use my voice through art, how else can I use my voice?
After thinking for a while, I felt like I could use my voice to advocate for others.
Now, after hearing about all of my church experiences, it may surprise you to hear that seeing God is something that has always been very hard for me. I never knew where to look. While I was growing up, everyone always told me about how they saw God in nature, in the clouds, in music, or in art but I could never see God in that way. It wasn’t until I was in Scotland with my youth group that I began to see God. I had spent the first couple days there looking and looking for God but I felt like He was nowhere to be found. That was until the last day, when I finally figured out how I could see God. Instead of worrying about why I couldn't, I just relaxed and knew God would help me see. Once I did, I began to see the world in an entirely new way. When I go to church I see God. When I go to Happening, I see God, and the best part is, I don’t just see God in the clouds or the mountains of Camp Mikell, I see God in the people all around me. These people truly inspire me to help others and push myself to love like Jesus and spread his love throughout the world.
Now that I have talked about learning how to share peace, love like Jesus, and look for God in the world, I feel it’s time to share where I feel called to serve our church. It started at Steps to Lead - a Youth Leadership Retreat in our diocese led by Bishop Wright. This past summer I was selected to attend, and I spent a weekend learning about the leadership of Jesus and what it means to be a leader in our world. During the retreat, Bishop Wright made all of us stop and think about what God was calling us to work on in our world. Every time we came up with an idea he would push us and ask why we wanted to work on that issue. After he asked me “why” about 100 times and the conversation got deeper and deeper, it finally got down deep enough for me to realize where I felt called. I realized I want to work with children and the parents of children with special needs and make them feel at home in the church. I felt the need to do this because I have a reading disability and I know what it feels like to be outside of the mold. Did you know that most parents with children that have special needs won’t bring them to church because they fear that their child will cause a distraction and interrupt others during the service?
When I got home from Steps to Lead, I went to my Girl Scout troop leader and told her that I had finally found what I wanted to do for my Girl Scout Gold Award. I told her I wanted to teach others how to include children with special needs in the church so they could know that Jesus loves them for who they are. My troop leader agreed, and this is where my work began. My goal is to teach people in the Episcopal Church how important God is in every child's life. I believe this will be the easy part. The hard part is going to be getting others to take action and make their parishes more welcoming and accessible to children and other people with special needs. In order to make this goal achievable, I must start with the parents of these children and young adults.
I have learned from Jesus and my church that to teach people about those who are “different”, you must be comfortable with surrounding yourself with people who are different from you. We all want to be accepted and included. I don’t need research to back it up because our God loves everyone - no exceptions.
God loves us all and so we should extend the invitation that God has sent to us, inviting all people to Him. These people can be seen as adults, children, teens, and anyone else that you feel could use some time to connect to God and His love. This could mean inviting a friend whose child has special needs, it could mean showing compassion for those whose journey may be different from yours, it could be making your church more welcoming to those that don’t see, hear, learn or walk in the same way. I hope you choose to love like Jesus and spread the word of His love so that all people may know the grace of God’s love. Thank you.