It started with the observation of one of our student leaders: "You know, Jonathan, I'm only here at St. Francis House - I only walked through these student center doors the first time - because of people who invested in me and made opportunities for me and shared the life of faith with me when I was in middle school."
Middle school? I asked.
"Folks in my parish and people in my diocese, they made spaces for me, when I was a kid." He looked at me directly. "What's going on in this diocese?" he asked. Intuitively, he knew that it is hard to adequately capture the self-destructive effects of a church that does not visibly value and invest in the lives of children, youth, and young adults. Moreover, he recognized the commitment to do so as a central feature of every single baptism in the Christian church.
So, what is going on in this diocese? Wonderfully, there are many good things happening. Challengingly, these efforts can be difficult to coordinate and/or leverage across congregations. It is easy to miss the existing efforts. It is easy to feel discouraged. So many of carry in our hearts the adamant conviction that more is possible.
It's an interesting and important observation, that campus ministry is in some ways a rain gauge for waters that fell nine years before. Kind of how we observe the light of stars whose lives have already run their courses. In other words, we're all connected, both to one another and, within each person, across the seasons of a lifetime. All of the specialized silos of ministry we imagine unravel at the insight that the seasons belong to unified lives in the one Body of Christ, unfolding, growing, and flourishing in God's time.
What to do with this student leader's insight? We gathered the St. Francis House student leadership team and discussed possibilities. We landed on an outreach gathering in which we would invite friends from other "silos" across the diocese to help us give money away. It wasn't a fundraiser - the students were prepared to give away $3,000, no matter who showed up. Instead, it was a wall-leveler, a friends-in-ministry-locator, an evening to strengthen and encourage. The gift would be the people gathered and their help in directing our funds. And we would try to have as much fun as possible.
All of that is the backstory for how we ended up hosting 30 something folks from 16 churches and other faith communities from across the diocese on April 11 for an evening of creative outreach. Attendees helped us disperse $3,000 in 3 directions:
- Camp Webb scholarship money for first time attendees
- Resource money for the St. Francis House middle and high school lock-in, November 2-3
- Funds for students to attend the national Episcopal Youth Event in 2020
We heard testimonies (yes, testimonies!) from a student who attended several EYEs, summer camp veterans, and parents who gave thanks for the Christ-centered support of others in the lives of their children. We shared photos and stories about the children who have shaped us and the people who made God's love known to us when we were children. We made sure everybody knew about the upcoming and 3rd annual Thrive conference, a summertime gathering of children's, youth, and young adult leaders at St. Francis House, this year featuring the Rev. Nurya Love Parish on July 20. (Spoiler: you can register here.)
By the end of the evening, despite our best efforts to not be a fundraiser, folks had added several hundred dollars to our efforts. We left a community connected (the lock-in found a music leader!), united, and inspired. And very much aware that the most important step was the next one. And the next one after that. And the one after that, as we continue to show up with hearts open and ready to actively engage the new possibilities of God and the new things God is doing among those who can so easily become invisible among us.
We want to keep the momentum moving forward. We want to support one another. We want to make it as easy as possible for a cash-strapped congregation with a plate full of challenges to nonetheless say 'yes,' to ministry that puts children, youth, and young adults at the forefront, even if they aren't a part of Sunday mornings. We want every church in the diocese to be a part of this circle, even if they're not sure they belong or what their place in the conversation is.
One of the things we discovered that night at the outreach gathering is that the Episcopal Youth Event allots 20 openings (give or take) to each diocese every time it happens. For the last several EYEs, our diocese (understandably, and like a lot of others) didn't use the full 20 spots, but relinquished them to dioceses that had more folks wanting to go than they had spots. Over the course of the evening, this became like a rallying cry for our community, "No more charity for other dioceses!" Ha. The rally cry only works in the one context, but it remains a goal that inspires me, mostly because it's a goal that will take us all to realize. Which means we'll have to move the conversation from the periphery to the center, where Jesus is. "Let the children come to me," he said. Wonderfully, the good work of that relocation is alive and well among us. If you haven't already, I dearly hope you and your church will join the circle! There is joy and blessing in it.