Convention’s Official Youth Presence delegates represent future of the church

By Logan Crews
Posted Jun 27, 2024
Official Youth Gathering delegates pose with Myra Garnes, the church’s officer for Youth Ministry, and other chaperones on the General Convention Revival stage in the KFC Yum! Center, June 22. Photo: Courtesy of OYP

Official Youth Gathering delegates pose with Myra Garnes, the church’s officer for Youth Ministry, and other chaperones on the General Convention Revival stage in the KFC Yum! Center, June 22. Photo: @episcoyouth

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] The 18 high school students making up the Official Youth Presence of the 81st General Convention have brought energy and fresh insight to the week’s proceedings. Representing every province of The Episcopal Church, they exhibit passionate opinions and say they’re ready for the church to listen to their voices.

“I see the people of my generation, and they’re such a strong group of people,” said Anna Skidmore, an Official Youth Presence delegate from the Diocese of Western Michigan.

The Official Youth Presence has since 1982 had a seat on the House of Deputies’ floor. Delegates are selected via a competitive application process. They can testify in legislative committees before convention and speak on the floor, but they do not have a vote.

For some youth, like Kyle Skinner from the Diocese of Dallas, this is frustrating.

“It’s just hard to have such passionate ideas and to just sit there and all you can do is talk to it,” he told the Episcopal News Service. “And while this has a huge impact, it’s also, I think, important that the OYP is fully included in the legislative process.”

If a resolution is on the House of Deputies consent calendar, there is no discussion and no one can speak to it. But Gabby Entrican from the Diocese of Massachusetts said one way to work around this is to pull the resolution off the consent calendar and onto the floor for debate. She asked her delegation to do this for Resolution A137  which would impact young people directly by creating a task force comprised of youth to research and develop global mission opportunities for Episcopalians ages 13-21, which is important to Entrican, she said.

 It takes three deputies to request a resolution be taken off the consent calendar; in this case, the resolution came to the house floor on June 27 and deputies voted to take no further action.

Official Youth Presence delegates share their vision for the future of The Episcopal Church in a presentation given to the House of Bishops on June 24. Photo: @episcoyouth

Diocese of Southern Virginia youth delegate Abby Cheney prioritizes racial reconciliation. Historical reckoning is essential for each diocese, she said, noting her diocese is home to Jamestown, the point of arrival for “20 and odd” enslaved Africans in 1619. Their arrival marked a horrific turning point in the transatlantic slave trade and began the unique institution of slavery in the United States.

“An understanding that we are called to do this as Christians is really important. I think it also sets the youth up for a better church,” Cheney said. “It helps us understand where we came from and helps us see where we’re going.”

Youth delegates also have been interested in resolutions concerning the violence in Israel and Palestine. In particular, Skinner said, they agree that it’s an urgent, tragic situation but have diverse opinions on potential solutions. The youth have been present for thorough conversations in the House of Deputies about terminology, and Cheney said she has noticed generational parallels in the discussions and other presentations delegates have witnessed.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in different presentations talking about how The Episcopal Church responded to apartheid in South Africa as something we as a church are very proud of, and I think we as a youth are recognizing that for our generation, this is, in a way, our South Africa,” Cheney said. “This is when we’re seeing our brothers and sisters in Christ hurting and we know we need to do something.”

When resolution debates and elections become contentious, both Skinner and Entrican said it is essential the convention remember it is part of a religious organization, not a political one.

“I think it’s important that we never forget that we are grounded in the Gospel,” Skinner said. “I think it’s important that we are people of Christ, and sometimes we can get caught up in all the processes and all that, but at the core of it, we are preaching the Gospel.”

Even though the numbers show an Episcopal Church declining in baptized members and average Sunday attendance, the Official Youth Presence is in overwhelming agreement: The Episcopal Church is not dying.

The inclusivity of The Episcopal Church is something that Entrican said is attractive to young people, evident at convention where some 10,000 people from across the church gather in one place. However, she told ENS the actions of other Christian denominations to be less inclusive reinforce a stigma that makes all of Christianity seem unapproachable to young people.

“When I talk about church at home, people kind of get almost repulsed,” Entrican said. “They kind of draw into themselves a little bit more, so I’ve made it a point when I’m at school, I don’t really talk about my own Christian faith and my ‘Episcopalianism’ because I don’t want to scare people away.”

Skinner agreed that The Episcopal Church’s welcoming nature is not apparent to those who aren’t already Episcopalians, both due to the Christian stigma and places in the Book of Common Prayer and the Catechisms that still reflect more traditional values, like a heteronormative understanding of marriage. “I think it’s time we match our written theology with our spoken theology, and I think in order to re-attract youth as a Christian community we need to be more open,” he said.

Alternative liturgies have been adopted that are inclusive of same-gender marriages, although they don’t exist in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, printed and bound and in the pews of every Episcopal church. The Book of Common Prayer now refers to “liturgical forms and other texts authorized by the General Convention in accordance the article and the Canons of this Church” after the June 26 adoption of Resolution A072 in the House of Deputies.

Cheney rejected the stereotype that youth aren’t engaged in church because they don’t like tradition. She, for one, said she loves the tradition and while it can always be expanded to provide a liturgy for everyone’s taste, it is not something that is driving youth away.

“I think our standardized formation and liturgy are so key to who we are, and I think it really unites us as a church,” Cheney said. “I think the standard ways of liturgy are super important to who we are as Episcopalians and we’re doing that really beautifully.”

As the convention wraps up this week, the youth delegates are taking home new ideas and insight into the inner workings of the church. Not only has their presence impacted their understanding of the legislative process that will be helpful on a diocesan level, but Skidmore said it has also been a time of transformation.

“If I didn’t come here, I don’t know if I would be as strong as I am in my faith,” she said.

–Logan Crews, a former Episcopal Church Ecojustice Fellow, is a seminarian at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale who serves on the student leadership team of the World Student Christian Federation-United States.