Service is the mantra for youth at Union of Black Episcopalians conference

July 10, 2008

This year's conference and meeting of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) found the youth participants not only engaged in strengthening their faith, but in being of service to others.

More than 40 youth, aged 13-21, gathered June 29-July 3 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey to celebrate and make their voices heard at the 40th anniversary of the intergenerational assemblage which acknowledges the lives, contributions and sacrifices of people of color.

According to Gina Houston, UBE's national youth advisor, the youth have always played an integral role in all aspects of the conference, including leading and planning a youth Eucharist service, but this year they had opportunities to participate in community service with Habitat for Humanity and Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

"We were able to send 10 of them to a Habitat site where they painted, did framing and gardening and 15 went to the Church of the Advocate where they worked with small children," she said.

Houston said the remaining young people spent the day engaged in bible study on the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Wale Omosebi, a youth representative on UBE's board of directors, led them in putting together a skit acting out the scripture.

Greg McKinley, a member of the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity in Philadelphia, and the Rev. Isaac Bonney, assistant rector of historic St. Thomas African Episcopal Church, were instrumental in planning the day of service for the youth.

"Being that UBE had not done anything with Habitat in the past, I thought it would be a nice way to link the two organizations together," said McKinley, a member of St. George/St. Barnabas in Philadelphia. "It exemplifies UBE's mission of getting involved."

He said it was also a chance to combat the lack of participation in volunteerism in the African American community. McKinley noted that in Philadelphia, although 99 percent of the houses are given to African American families, less than 2 percent are actually volunteering at the work sites.

He said the youth's participation was actual "mission in action."

"It is feeling it, and breathing it versus talking about it and planning," he explained.

Prior to the start of both service opportunities, the Rev. Canon Thomas W. S. Logan, 96, the oldest African American priest in the church and one of the honorees at the conference, blessed the children. The Rev. Isaac Miller, rector of Church of the Advocate, gave the young people volunteering at his church a bit of its history before putting them to work.

Morgan Morgan, 16, of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, who volunteered at Church of the Advocate, thought that being of service was vital.

"I worked with a 4-year old boy who was autistic," she explained. "He didn't communicate and it was hard for us to work together but I found ways and it was a good experience."

Mabel Bakali, 13, and Vanessa Mndolo, 19, of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and Debra Briggs, 13, of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, also tutored and read to children and were in agreement that it was a "memorable and important experience."

Physical labor was the order of the day for those who worked at the Habitat site.

"I painted a house and washed the walls," said Simone Ellison, 17, of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

Johann Williams, 20, of the Diocese of Texas, spent the day in the back and front yards picking weeds and cleaning out lots.

The Rev. Lynne Washington, vicar of St. Peter's Church in Richmond, Virginia brought seven young people from the Peter Paul Development Center also located in Richmond, Virginia to UBE to "expose them to the church."

"I enjoyed learning about the Bible and meeting new people," said Shaquille Jones, 14, a participant of the development center.

The end result of the day of volunteerism culminated at the UBE business meeting where the youth reported that they now want to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in every city that UBE holds its annual gathering and use it as a fundraiser.

-- Daphne Mack is a correspondent for Episcopal Life Media and is editor of Global Good and Put Your Faith to Work