Peace Fellowship's young adult representatives are active advocates for justice issues

July 13, 2009

Far from being wide-eyed and shy, the eight 20-something members of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship's Young Adult Presence (YAP) are very present indeed at General Convention, with a deep grasp of issues and an even deeper determination to do something about them.

The young adults, who are either college students or recent graduates, are all active in their local congregations and dioceses in a variety of peace and justice issues, such as food banks, shelters, women's rights, gay and lesbian rights, education equality, children's issues, and a number of other justice ministries. All of them are first-time General Convention attendees.

At a meeting at the EPF booth in the Exhibit Hall July 14, the young people discussed their favorite issues and their reactions to the General Convention process.

Anson Stewart, who lives in the Diocese of Los Angeles when he's not attending college at Swarthmore in Pennsylvania, is especially interested in environmental justice issues, bringing together the Episcopal Church's response to global climate issues and economic matters, especially those touching the most vulnerable populations of the world.

Asked if he found the church's response to such issues adequate, Anson said, "Yes, in the specific resolutions" that he was tracking at General Convention, but that the church's overall responses to justice issues are not necessarily strong enough.

Catherine Healy of Oregon said that as someone especially interested in "women's rights and gay rights as a reflection of our baptismal covenant," she was "amazed" and pleased by the House of Bishops' vote in favor of an amended version of Resolution D025, a thought echoed by several of the group.

Michelle Harvey of Oregon said that she was very anxious before the bishops' vote that the resolution would be defeated. "I have a lot more faith in the bishops now," she said.

One of the group, who was not present for the meeting, is Nedgie Vixamar of Haiti. EPF is active in the Diocese of Haiti, and a resolution supporting that effort is pending before convention, says the Rev. Nicole Janelle, who with the Rev. Valerie Bailey Fischer is coordinator for the young adult presence. Vixamar testified at a committee hearing on the matter.

The entire group wore tee shirts printed with the message "Peace is a development tool" in the Creole language used in Haiti.

Bradley McDonald of Michigan says that although all of the participants did their homework before they arrived and come prepared to speak to certain issues, they discovered new things to be concerned about. He says that when he listened to committee testimony he heard for the first time about the difficulties experiences by transgendered persons who have been passed over for jobs or promotions because of their sexuality, or feared to come out. "I found that moving," he said.

The group was also impressed with the general civility of the discussion. "In my issues," said one of the group, "everything was very calm. The atmosphere was very civil, even when there was disagreement."

Jessie Smith of Olympia, Washington, did encounter some resistance, but "I didn't know it until after I suggested a change," she said. Several people told her later that she was undermining their resolution, although the committee accepted and incorporated her suggestions into the version they approved.

It's interesting to learn the system and make an impact, she said.

Most of the young people were encouraged by the convention process, which they found mildly intimidating, but generally accessible. "I was surprised by progressive spirit I find at convention," comment one participant. "It was also a little discouraging that I had to come here to find that."

"I was taken by the spirit that everyone here is possessed by," said Allison Voglesong of Michigan.

"All seem to share an understanding of what is at the basis of their ministries. The strict procedure is unlike any intersection of politics and belief," she added, but there's plenty of room for the Holy Spirit to blow.

The YAP group is blogging throughout General Convention here.

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