I’ve just returned from the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) in Oklahoma City, a triennial gathering of the youth of our Church for worship, fellowship, study and prayer. This was my first time at this traveling event (last time it was in Philly) and it was an honor and a privilege to accompany our delegation of 12 youth. The youth in attendance from Central Pennsylvania were Emily Sipe, Brittnie and Courtney Betteley, Noah Runkle, Devinee Tucker, Kyler Hammill-Torres (St. Paul’s, Columbia), Anna Kwasnica (St. Andrew’s State College), Emma DiPace (St. John’s Lancaster), Leah Doyle (Christ Church Coudersport), Carter Ishler (St. Edward Lancaster), Slate Johnson (Mt. Calvary Camp Hill), and Molly Souders (St. Thomas Lancaster). Besides our youth, we had three adult chaperones in attendance- Mary Ellen and Bob Kilp and the Rev. Gina Barrett.
We stayed on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma. Following along in the tide of the well-planned and executed events, we moved from meals in the cafeteria to plenary sessions in the field house to smaller workshop events, beginning and ending each day with worship. When we worshipped together it was 1,200-strong and with an amazing band on stage that kicked it up, and when we worshipped in our small group it was sweet and gentle, as we sat in the dark on sidewalks still warm from the day’s sun and during Compline named out loud the places where we had seen Jesus during the day.
The workshops at EYE invited us to explore a variety of subjects all focused on this year’s theme: “A Path for Peace-” from the polity of the Episcopal Church to methods of non-violent resistance, to unpacking the Jesus Movement and learning from people involved in programs that are making a difference: the Young Adult Service Corps, Episcopal Relief and Development, Refugee and Migration Ministries and Peacemakers in the Middle East.
We learned about out host city, traveling around in 21 coach busses on Wednesday in a 12- hour adventure that took us to art museums, a horse show, a museum of Oklahoma History, on a boat ride, to the downtown botanical gardens, to a suburban church that hosts a program for children with incarcerated parents, and to the cathedral church that reaches into the neighborhood through their “St. George’s Guild,” addressing all sorts of social problems faced by the homeless and the working poor. The centerpiece of our Oklahoma Day was visiting the Murrah building site and museum which is dedicated to the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building that claimed the lives of 168 people including 19 children. We were primed for our trip the night before with a visit from 3 people who had been involved in bombing and who courageously shared their stories with us, peeling back the protective skin that they had developed in the past 22 years to share, in all of their vulnerability, their remarkable stories. We shared a candlelit Compline service under the stars on Wednesday night at the edge of the reflecting pool at the memorial site, looking across the water at the 168 empty chairs that represent the lives of those lost in the tragedy.
Through all of this, I was keenly aware of my role. Not as “ecclesiastical authority,” but as shepherd and overseer, privileged to watch our 12 young people absorb all that this trip had to offer. I watched them wrap their arms around each others’ shoulders and sing familiar songs; reach, instinctively, for each others’ hands to clasp each time we prayed the Lord’s Prayer; cover themselves with face paint and rub-on tattoos and balloon animal crowns during the Wednesday night carnival; listen with wide eyes to the docents at the Murrah building museum; overflow with excitement about the possibilities opened to them in the workshops; and patiently wait in long lines for the evening’s dose of tater tots and pizza and hot dogs. Our kids are remarkable. They really are. Open and willing and vulnerable and joyful and thoughtful and free. I felt like it was an enormous responsibility in accompanying them here, and to participate in the stewardship of their souls.
I had to leave before it was over. Only one day early, but it was hard. It was hard to step out of the circle of these sweet ones. My prayer for them is that the the Spirit’s work of this week will continue in them and that they will be encouraged by what they learned and experienced. My prayer for us is that we continue to seek experiences for our children, our youth and for the adult members of our community that we, too, may be continually transformed by the love of Christ.