By Perry Gresham, Grace Calvary
I am Perry Gresham, I am a member of Grace Calvary Episcopal Church, I am a member of the Convocation of the North Georgia Mountains, and I am a part of the this Diocese. Diocese of Atlanta, let me hear ya!
So, what do I have for you today? Before I get into the heart of it, lemme just say that things are happening in the Diocese of Atlanta, both at our churches and at our diocesan youth events, and I am grateful to be a part of both.
So, what is is being a youth in our Diocese? It’s busy. Very busy. Whether we are acolyting at our church, playing four square at Camp Mikell, washing our feet in the Atlantic ocean, or running around in Oklahoma City, we are eager to explore all that God has for us. In the Gospel, the bridesmaids seemed ready; yet, the lamps of five of them went out. They were expecting Jesus to arrive on their schedule so when His coming was delayed, they found themselves unprepared. Being a youth in the church can be like this. We are so busy with SAT’s, ACT’s, sports, clubs, community service hours, ya know, building that college resume, that church can get lost. And if church is lost, our faith will not run deep and our fires will burn out. Talk to any Youth Minister in our Diocese and they will tell you how much youth have on their plate in today’s world. It’s an issue, and I won’t pretend to have the answers for it, but we have to talk about it no matter how uncomfortable it is. Even with all of this going on I believe so many of the youth in our Diocese are ready and prepared with a deep faith. It’s a part of our anglican heritage - we get what it means to love without conditions, to welcome both the churched and unchurched, and to not give up on this world.
This summer, I was a part of the inaugural Steps to Lead Retreat, which happened to have Bishop Wright with us, a beast on the basketball court and a loving mentor. As a participant, I took steps, metaphorically and literally, toward becoming a better leader in my church, school, and community. Inspired by the words of Bishop Wright, “Leadership is the capacity to mobilize people to address tough problems especially problems they would rather avoid,” we were sent out to begin a new journey in leading as Jesus calls us to lead. We were ready. Easton, Mary Hooper, and Bishop Wright sent us to heed Jesus’ best and shortest sermon: Go!
Later that summer, I went to Oklahoma where the largest function in the “Capital C” Church was waiting. Imagine this, you are on the front row for the Episcopal Youth Event’s opening eucharist, you are surrounded by 1300 of your closest friends, shouting, singing, and swaying to the sounds of God’s love. This was my reality in July. EYE was an amazing experience. I met other youth from Alaska to Hawaii to France to Israel. From multiple points on the globe, we gathered in order to share a common experience and that experience was life changing. The theme for the week, Path to Peace, challenged us to love like Jesus. Because of the immense diversity at Central Oklahoma University, my heart expanded to include everyone regardless of society’s boundaries. I conquered the challenge to grow spiritually. Bishop Curry repeatedly invited us to join the Jesus Movement and by the end of the week, I can tell you, we were all in. All 1300 of us were ready.
After journeying across the country, I returned to my spiritual home, my thin place, a second home for many of our youth, Camp Mikell. I am from the mountains and it's where my roots run the deepest. This place is one where everyone is welcome and I was blessed to spend five weeks at this haven. Two weeks as a camper, three weeks as a counselor, including a sweet week with the Emmaus House scholars, completed my summer. Because I invested in leadership stemming from Steps to Lead and EYE, I felt more comfortable in my leadership role. Inspired by a courageous and sweet Agallia, just five years old, I learned to take leaps of faith in order to experience a deeper love of God. I can hear her voice right now telling me, “just be happy Perry!” She was ready to love, serve, worship, and grow no matter the situation. Because of those simple words and Agallia’s pure spirit, I deepened my own faith.
So, to bring it all back around, my deep faith has been formed by my loving congregation at Grace Calvary, by the love I receive at Camp Mikell, and by all all the diocesan youth events I am a part of. I know I am not speaking to the 1000’s of youth across our Diocese, but I am speaking to those that know each one of them. What I ask you today, is to make youth a priority. Let them be the church. Youth Sunday is awesome, but what about the other 51 Sunday’s a year? What about vestry? What about investing in a Youth Director? I know, it’s a tall order, but as the Gospel says, we need to be ready, and being ready requires a commitment from every church and person in our Diocese.
In every experience I shared today, I am not alone. Because of your commitment to our spiritual journey, the youth of the Diocese are ready. We personally challenge ourselves every day to worship joyfully and peacefully with our peers from across the Church and world, serve compassionately by walking in another’s footsteps, and grow spiritually alongside the most vulnerable among us like the sweet Agallia. Today is our day. Watch and follow us as we Go!