Young adults' voices are strong, informed

August 4, 2003

Gale Kenny, a 24-year-old graduate student at Rice University, said her relationship with the Episcopal Church goes way beyond Happenings youth retreats. But Kenny says some older adults she has encountered at General Convention seem surprised that her days of singing Episcopal camp songs are over.

This convention, Kenny – who served as the assistant Episcopal chaplain at Northwestern University – has been sharing advice about campus ministry at the booth for the Episcopal Society for Ministry in Higher Education. She has spoken at the evangelism and education committees and said her ideas have been considered with respect and seriousness.

But many people categorized as “young adults” say their opinions are being overshadowed by their ages. Saturday afternoon, about 30 young adults – including deputies and alternates – met to form a caucus, in the hope that their voices will resonate more loudly as a group.

Eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Hall, an alternate deputy from the Diocese of Vermont, said she didn’t think young adults' opinions are being taken seriously in the House of Deputies. She said their decision on Thursday to hold the 2006 General Convention in mid-June – before many teenagers and some young adults are finished with school for the summer – proves how little they care about a young adult voice at convention.

Kenny said the problem lies not in the amount of caring and concern, but in the type of speech that is encouraged.

“Some of the young adults have had training in strategic planning and fund-raising through their campus ministries and other things, such as graduate school and [work in] public policy,” Kenny said. “[They] have an idea of how to deal with resolutions and parliamentary procedure in a way that is just as sophisticated as some of the adults who serve on committees.”

But Kenny said the young adults whose speech is applauded are giving testimonials – not proposing amendments.

“The [specialized] knowledge [of some young adults] is undermined by other participants who speak with more evangelical and fiery rhetoric that doesn’t really address the aspects of the resolution at hand,” Kenny said.

“When the committees applaud these fiery testimonials, it makes the young adults who have really thought about the issues prayerfully feel like their work is not being appreciated,” she said. “The catchy jingoism undermines the message of those young adults who consider themselves adults and not youth.”

Emily Sieracki, 22, said she is the youngest volunteer at the Integrity exhibit booth by about 15 years. Sieracki said adults have been encouraging of her desire to voice opinions. “[Young adults] are stretched thin because we have an obligation to speak about young adult issues and campus ministry because we have just come out of all these things and we can speak about them better than older people,” she said. “But at the same time, it takes our time and energy away from issues we are most interested in.”

Kenny said some adults fail to realize that issues outside the realm of campus ministry and evangelism matter to the convention’s young adults. “In real life, we don’t walk around saying ‘I want to vote for [a particular candidate] because he likes young adult issues and education,” she said. “We care about things like health care.”

Nicole Janelle, 25, a deputy from the Diocese of Maine and a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, said young adults' voices are silenced because they are not familiar with parliamentary procedure. “Until we understand what we are doing with parliamentary procedure, it is going to be difficult for us to really enter into the crux of the conversation,” Janelle said.

But Janelle said she noticed – and was impressed with – the increased effort to include young voices at convention. “I think there could be more support from [adult] folks,” she said. “[But] having been to the last few conventions, I find it heartening that there are increased efforts to include young people.”