By MacKenzie Teal, Junior at St. Paul's Newnan
Good Morning. My name is MacKenzie Teal, and I am from St. Paul's in Newnan. I am honored to give the youth address at the 109th Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta.
200: the number of youth from the Diocese of Atlanta that participated in the Hunger Walk last March. 70: the number of youth that loaded up on a bus to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania last June. 8:the number of youth representing the Diocese of Atlanta at the 50th anniversary of Jonathan Daniel in Hayneville, Alabama. 220: the number of youth that came together from 29 different parishes for the first Youth Day Retreat last August. 65: the number of youth here in this building as part of the youth lock-in. Our diocesan youth program has grown into something remarkable this past year. The trips and retreats and community gatherings that I mentioned are just some of the opportunities we've had to grow as young Episcopalians. These events wouldn't be possible without the financial and spiritual support of the Diocese of Atlanta.
At the 2015 Hunger Walk, thousands of people gathered at Turner field to raise money for the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Like I mentioned, there were 200 youth from our diocese there, not including the people that weren’t registered with our EYC team. Before the walk, we met at Emmaus House for worship and Eucharist with a cookout afterward. The room was filled to the point that we had to open the windows so that the people standing outside could listen in. There were people from across the diocese sitting/standing/crouching in a sacred space praising God and offering thanksgivings as one.
In June, 70 youth from 9 parishes loaded up and took a bus to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I was unable to go, but I asked fellow youth commission member Trey Walker about his experience on that trip. As I talked with Trey, he said he had been on mission trips before and expected a similar experience. The first day they split up into groups and he was assigned the group working with the CAC, standing for Community Action Coalition. They had to survey the quality of the houses and buildings in the Allison Hill neighborhood. When they got back that day, Fr. Tripp asked the simple question “where have you seen God today?” They couldn’t give him an honest answer. The next day they found out that they were being sent to survey the worst part of town. They walked among the brokenness and devastation of the streets, and at one point had to stop and turn around after being warned by the fire chief that they would be shot if they turned the corner. It wasn’t 15 minutes later they walked upon an abandoned community garden that was overgrown, but had a message in spanish that read “We are a community of love”. It wasn’t soon after the group began to notice how God was working in this community and filling these people with hope, even though it appeared to be a hopeless place. Experiences like this aren't possible for everyone. It’s a blessing to know that we are youth in a diocese that supports mission work where our purpose is to make a stand with our fellow brothers and sisters and learn about how we can draw the circle wider.
The next adventure was to Hayneville, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of the death of Jonathan Daniel, who was a charter of the civil rights movement. 8 of us loaded up and headed down to Alabama at 7am on a Saturday (which thanks to Easton and his lack of consideration for the time change, was an hour too early.) When we got there to this little wide spot in the road of a town, there were dozens of charter buses parked, tents set up all of the court square, and more purple shirts with collars in one place than I'd ever seen. We took a walk through Hayneville, stopping at different places to listen to readings from Jonathan Daniel's personal journal. We witnessed the unveiling of a historical marker on the front steps of the convenience store where he was shot. We were fortunate enough to hear our now brand new presiding bishop preach and to get a picture with him. During the picture taking process I heard Presiding Bishop Michael Curry say “alright guys, sorority squat.” it was a good day.
In late August, we had our first ever diocesan youth day retreat. 220 youth from 29 parishes met at All Saints’ in Atlanta. Our day included singing, dancing, small group discussions, games (including one intense game of 9-square), a glorious taco buffet, and a Q&A with Bishop Wright. We ended the day by packing 2,000 sandwiches that we took to Crossroads Community Ministries of St. Luke's. Later today, we will continue our efforts of addressing hunger by packaging 10,000 meals that will be sent all over the world. We started the Lock-In with a canned food drive that Episcopal Appleton Minisitries will deliver to The Place in Forsyth. So we went local and global in less than 24 hours.
In 2015, we had at least 7 more parishes involved in every diocesan youth event compared to year to date last year. Looking at the last 20 years, the 29 parishes participating in the Diocesan Youth Day Retreat is the most parishes we have had at any Diocesan Youth Event. Of those events, some have been here in the diocese, but we've also taken our energy, enthusiasm and talents to other parts of the country.
So my question is, if we do such an outstanding job of spreading our community to places like Alabama and Pennsylvania, why do we find it so difficult to bring that same community home into our parishes? Let's go back to numbers for a minute. During our Q&A with Bishop Wright, he told us that 20% of the average attendance should be youth. So if average Sunday attendance is 200 people, 40 of those should be youth. Think about last Sunday. And the Sunday before that, were there that many youth in attendance? If not, why? That is where EYC's biggest challenge is right now. At a diocesan level, we have amazing things going on with some highly dedicated youth and youth leaders on board, but we must take that enthusiasm from the diocesan level and apply it to our individual parishes.
I've noticed in some places that the youth are looked at as the future of the church. But that's wrong. The youth are not the future of the church. They are the now of the church. I'll say it again. We are not the Future of the church. We are the now of the church. We have voices now. We have energy and ideas now. We have gifts to offer now. We are important now. In Matthew ch 9 verse 38, we are told that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. God has work for us to do, but few people are available to do it. Utilize your youth as laborers. Get and keep us involved. Help us to be servants of God. We've been placed here as members of the Episcopal Church for a reason. Christ has given us the love to leave this building and change the world; let us show you.