Episcopal Youth Event 2023 underway, calls teens to a ‘new age of faith’

By Logan Crews
Posted Jul 5, 2023

Hundreds of young people gather for Episcopal Youth Event, being held July 4-8 at the University of Maryland in College Park. Photo: Episcopal Church Office of Communication

[Episcopal News Service – College Park, Maryland] The 2023 Episcopal Youth Event is in full swing as hundreds of teenagers, adult chaperones and bishops traveled to College Park, Maryland, for a week of fellowship, learning and worship.

EYE’s theme is Regreso a Casa (“return home” in Spanish): A New Age of Faith. The conference was originally planned for 2020 but was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pent-up energy accumulated during the three-year hiatus is now bursting across the University of Maryland campus.

“This is like my big step into the world to see new things and meet new people,” said Izzy Blevins, a high schooler from the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.

The event began quietly on the evening of Independence Day, with an ice cream social that quickly moved inside after the July heat started to melt the ice cream and light rain fell on the delegations arriving on campus. On July 5, members of the student leadership team welcomed participants to a worship service and the opening keynote speaker, Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson.

Johnson introduced one of EYE’s themes taken from the book of Esther: “For such a time as this.” Esther’s story, he said, can be an inspiration for youth because of how God uses ordinary people for extraordinary things, just at the right time.

“Our youth are not the future, our youth are the present,” Johnson said during his address. “They are the ones who need to be taking the lead. They’re the ones who are going to tell us as a church where we need to go and how we’re going to get there.”

Deon Johnson at EYE

Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson speaks July 5 at Episcopal Youth Event 2023 at the University of Maryland in College Park. Photo: Episcopal Church Office of Communication

The roughly 600 youth and their 200 chaperones in attendance at EYE represent 108 dioceses, spanning 22 nations or territories. The bilingual English-Spanish opening worship service was meant to set the tone for this week’s multicultural celebration of faith, and the worship band’s setlist featured songs from gospel singers and LGBTQ+ and Latino musicians.

One song, “Montaña” by Salvador, had the room dancing with its dramatic flair and quick tempo.

“I got my heart touched by that one song,” said Yohan Santiago, a high school senior from the Diocese of Ohio. “Like, it really touched me, singing in Spanish.”

The July 5 afternoon was full of workshops and activities to engage both youth and adults, with topics ranging from being Christian on social media to practicing empathy. Contemplative activities pepper the campus for people like Zavion Henderson, another senior from the Diocese of Ohio, who described EYE as “exciting [and] overwhelming sometimes” for those who don’t like being around large groups of people. These include a chapel space with coloring pages and a labyrinth, a prayer wall and an exhibition hall full of booths with free swag.

Jacob Crisman, 15, first met his peers in the Diocese of Colorado’s delegation on the first day of EYE. Already, their group said they’re eager to meet youth from other places and find inspiration from their stories.

“Being a youth in general, it means we have the ability to influence things happening in the world,” Crisman said. “So this sort of event where we come together and start to make community bonds with each other, it’s a really great start to having community with the whole Episcopal Church.”

While adults at EYE — including chaperones, clergy and Episcopal Church staff — play important roles in this week’s event, Myra Garnes reminded them of their responsibility to let young people lead.

“Let us adults not get confused that it’s our faith or our age or our time,” said Garnes, the church’s officer for youth ministry. “We get to share it and we get to walk with them. We get to experience it. We get to be a part of the story.”

EYE will continue through July 8 with jam-packed daily schedules and the much-anticipated arrival of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry on July 6. Participants will explore the themes of “celebrate” and “send,” following day one’s theme of “gather,” before reentering their home communities with new knowledge and inspiration.

-Logan Crews is an Episcopal Church Ecojustice Fellow and serves on the student leadership team of the World Student Christian Federation-United States.