By Zach Perry, Emmanuel Athens
There is an old understanding in parish life that unless you want to run a new program, don’t suggest one. Christmas Pageants are often the topic of this joke. Everyone wants to see the children in angel wings and shepard’s robes but nobody wants to put in the time and effort to make it happen.
I’ve attended provincial events for years beginning with a mission based PYE(Provincial Youth Event) in Bay St. Louis my freshman year of high school. It was only when I attended the Provincial Network Meeting at the beginning of December that I realized that, much like the Christmas Pageant, everyone loves the idea of Provincial Youth, but few are willing to put in the hours.
In the years I attended a pattern developed. Around four adults were always there. They could be counted on to be in the thick of planning and organizing the event. A few youth were consistent as well; often found on design team or having dragged their youth friends along for the ride. And a couple of Diocese could be relied on to send sizable groups. Aside from this core group, it was all very haphazard. Youth groups that had come the previous year were on pilgrimages, Dioceses had changed their youth coordinator and were going in a different direction, a parish mission trip kept another adult away. You would never know who was going to be there, but you always knew that great things would happen.
At the Network meeting this year, all but three diocese from Province IV were in attendance. This being the first provincial event I had attended in a couple of years, I was delighted to see the same familiar faces of the adults who had been running them since I was 15. With this I realized that the world of Youth ministry is a small one, much smaller than it should be. I knew half of the adults in the room not only because of their dedication to the ministry, but because for many of them, there was nobody to take their place.
The details of the meeting are another topic altogether, and are much better summarized in meeting notes taken by a friend in attendance. For me, this weekend was much more than hearing some good ideas about youth and meeting my counterparts from around the southeast, although that was accomplished as well. It was a kick in the head that in spite of the impact Provincial Events had on my life, they were put on the back burner by almost everyone in the church.
If there is to be a future of Provincial involvement, we have to be conscious about what we want from it. My youth group attended because we didn’t have the resources to plan and organize our own mission trip. For some diocese, PYE is a pivotal part of their summer. But for most it is a trip that was advertized too late and doesn’t have enough information to warrant sending youth.
The wonderful people who have put so much time into Provincial ministry need help to accomplish the things that they are being called to do. It’s easy to sit on the side lines and point out what’s wrong with something. It’s a different beast entirely to dive head first into the problem and fix it. That happens on a diocesan level.
Most who read this will have never attended a provincial event, and likely don’t plan on doing so in the future. Why should you care about the goings on in Louisiana when you can’t get five youth to sunday school? Why does something called Bishops Ball matter to you when our own diocesan programs are needing revamping and reevaluating? This is the same debate as getting involved on a diocesan level in spite of parish issues. It doesn’t always make sense to send three youth to Tennessee to clear brush in a national forest, but the exchange of ideas, stories and beliefs that occurs is something that cannot be cast aside as unnecessary.
The event was hosted by the Episcopal Church in South Carolina at a Lutheran Conference center. The Youth coordinator from the ECSC attends church in a funeral home. She sometimes has to move youth group to the hallway on account of a dead body being in the assigned youth space. What happened in South Carolina is the result of a diocese who doesn’t see the purpose of being involved with the national church. After thirty years of gradually increasing separation, splitting from the Episcopal Church seemed a necessary move to the average parishioner. Quantifying the results of attending Provincial events may be hard, but the consequences of not attending is a church that claims unity in the Anglican Communion while having no understanding of what that actually means.
I encourage you to look into provincial events and National events as well. They are not all youth related and offer a wide variety of opportunities. If you are interested please get in contact with me or Easton (Who might just send you to me). If you want to know more about the actual meeting and what youth programs in other Diocese look like, then let me know and I would love to fill you in. Enjoy the rest of Christmas and have a happy New Year!