When 1,300 Episcopal youth and their adult sponsors converge on Saint Paul, Minnesota, this summer, they will be welcomed to an event planned to deepen personal faith, build Christian community and create a greater awareness of and commitment to God's mission in the world.
The triennial Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) will take place on the campus of Bethel University June 22-26. The event's design team -- made up of youth and adults -- spent April 30 on the Bethel campus fitting 12 months of conceptual planning into actual physical spaces. It was another in a series of event planning meetings that are also changing the lives of the team members in the process.
'11 in 11'
The Episcopal Youth Event was created by the General Convention in 1982 to "gather and capture the energy and enthusiasm of young people for their church," according to Bronwyn Clark Skov, youth ministry officer for the Episcopal Church.
The event has taken place every three years and has grown in many ways since 1982, according to Skov, who said it is "very cool that we have the 11th Episcopal Youth Event in 2011" and that, as in the past, the event is bound to transform lives.
"What will be most significant and transformative is that for most it will be the first time to see so many other young Episcopalians their age -- 1,000 young people together in the same place," she said. "And in the midst of a huge gathering, close friendships will be made in small groups. There may be a young person from Kansas, someone from the Dominican Republic, from Spokane and Micronesia -- all in the same, small reflection group -- along with a bishop, a clergy person or a youth minister. Although large, it will be a very integrated event."
"That kind of chemistry is what helps create a very transformative atmosphere," said Skov.
Coming together for mission
The theme for EYE 2011, "Come Together: Intimately Linked in this Harvest Work," was developed by the youth members of the design team -- a group of 10 people from nine dioceses that Lydia Buklin calls "amazing." Buklin, an adult member of the team and the missioner for children and youth for the Diocese of Iowa, said she has been "so impressed with their creativity, their passion, their faith, their spirituality and the ideas they have come up with."
The Rev. L. Sue Von Rautenkranz, of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, said the youth members of the team "bring a passion for developing relationships with other people, but also for developing relationships with Jesus."
"In all of the meetings, conversations and concepts, it is clear that their passion and excitement for mission has been shaped by experiences in their home congregations and dioceses and by how they feel about their church -- the Episcopal Church. They want to share to share their understanding and concept of mission and who Jesus is in their lives with others. That's what really drives them; that's what they are excited about; that's what they are pulled into."
The program at the 2011 Episcopal Youth Event will reflect the team's passion and be "all about mission," said Brooke Lucas, a youth member of the design team from the Diocese of Maryland, who serves on the "mission planning group."
"This whole event is going to be very powerful as 1,000 Christian youth come together to worship, pray and serve. But, just the mission aspect, alone, could completely transform someone's faith," she said.
Lucas said the mission component of the program will unfold each day around a theme word ("build," "share" and "fulfill") and that there will be 30 concurrent workshops at several different times "on every aspect of mission," even one that she and two friends will teach tying the Harry Potter book and film series to God's mission in the world. During "Mission Possible," participants will complete a variety of mission projects that can be completed in an evening, such as writing letters to soldiers and assembling care packages for victims of recent tornados.
She also explained that there will be a first at this year's Episcopal Youth Event: participants will build a house from the ground up in a parking lot on the campus. The house will be donated to Habitat for Humanity, which will transport the house to a Saint Paul suburb following the gathering.
Leadership brings discovery, transformation
Lucas also said that the very experience of serving on the design team has been transformative.
"This has been a unique experience. I've never had the opportunity to be in this kind of leadership before and I really feel like I'm making a difference," she said. "And even though sometimes people really don't listen to youth, on this team that is not the case. All the comments, ideas and concerns of the youth members are taken very seriously."
Austin Ryan, a youth member of the team from the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, agrees saying the experience has been "phenomenal."
"Working with these Episcopalians from all over the country, and other countries, has been incredible -- working together, discovering all their viewpoints and really having my viewpoints expanded."
He said the same experience is in store for all those who come to EYE this summer as they "meet, talk and learn with many, many people from all over the Episcopal Church."
Brooks Prior, another youth member of the team, said the other members have become like family.
"I've been able to meet a lot of influential people in the church and I now think of all these people on the design team as my brothers and sisters," he said. "It's just like a big family planning a big family vacation."
Prior, whose father, Brian, was consecrated bishop of Minnesota one year ago, and says it will be fun to have EYE in Minnesota so he can show off his home state. His brother, Gage, is also a member of the design team.
Ruth Sanchez, representing the youth of the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, said that being part of the design team has been an experience "unlike anything I've ever done" and that she is happy to be part of planning an event that will "help people grow up spiritually."
The Rev. Earl Gibson, a member of the team from the Diocese of Los Angeles, said the youth members of the team are carrying on an important tradition that will make it possible for future generations to attend EYE and he called them "simply awesome."
"With these kids no obstacle is too big to get over. With them, anything is possible."
-- Joe Bjordal is an ENS correspondent.
The youth members of the EYE design team and home dioceses are:
Bryan Bauer, Oklahoma
Carolyn Downs, Connecticut
Lizzie Kezar, Kansas
Jessica Livingston, Washington, D. C.
Brooke Lucas, Maryland
Lydia Pendleton, Connecticut
Brooks Prior, Minnesota
Gage Prior, Minnesota
Austin Ryan, Upper South Carolina
Ruth Sanchez, Dominican Republic
Adult members of the Design Team (and home dioceses) are:
Cookie Cantwell, North Carolina
Earl Gibson, Los Angeles
Sam Hensley, South West Virginia
Lydia Kelsey Bucklin, Iowa
Milquella Mendoza, Dominican Republic
Sue von Rautenkranz, Upper South Carolina
Wes Wubbenhorst, Maryland
Supporting the team are:
Randall Curtis, Diocese of Arkansas
Valerie Harris, Associate for Formation and Vocation Ministries, the Episcopal Church
Shannon Kelley, Diocese of Milwaukee
Meghan Ritchie, Events Associate, Episcopal Church Center
Bronwyn Clark Skov, Officer for Youth Ministries, the Episcopal Church