Discerning Christian Vocation with Youth Across Europe
Recently I had the pleasure of joining the youth ministers and young people of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe for their annual youth events. For many years they have been convening teenagers for Youth Across Europe (YAE) during Ascension week. Recently they added a program for 10-13 year olds called Juniors Across Europe (JAE). Both of these events included youth and adults from several of the parishes and missions in Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium.
Jane Doebler, the volunteer youth ministry coordinator for the convocation, was my host and tour guide as I met up with the YAE event in Clermont-Ferrand, France, and then traveled to Budingen, Germany, just north of Frankfurt for JAE.
Each of these events had a feel quite similar to a diocesan or provincial retreat, or akin to camp or vacation Bible school. There was a daily rhythm of food, fellowship, faith and fun. Anglican prayers (Episcopal, Scottish, New Zealand) and excellent music gave structure to our worship. The group at YAE in France was engaged in a theme of discerning Christian vocation. We also engaged in service work, small groups, and some friendly competitive fun. There was a similar pattern with the juniors, although not as in depth with the small group sessions.
When it came time for my session with the teens, I realized that I couldn’t do my regular Episcopal Church cheerleading, as over half of the youth are from families who do not claim the Episcopal Church as their Christian tradition. Some of those teens were participating with the Episcopal Church because it is the only English speaking option for their current and temporary residential context. Some of the youth are unchurched but thirsty for peers who have a common American background. Some are Episcopal by affiliation and are European born but have one parent who is a U.S. citizen and another who is not. And some come from an Anglican background and choose to worship with the Episcopalians in Europe.
This mix of youth, living in a land that may or may not be of their birth, and who may or may not have the local language as their first language, are known as Third Culture Kids. I had never heard the term before so I had to do a little research. The term was coined in the 1960s and referred initially to Foreign Service workers’ children. But the definition has expanded as global business, immigration, and refugee resettlement have contributed to the growth of this population of youth who “belong everywhere and nowhere” simultaneously.
I began with a super condensed history of how the Episcopal Church came into being, starting with Jesus, of course, and wrapping up with the current Presiding Bishop. I then spoke briefly to the Baptism which we all held common. I quickly transitioned to the Five Marks of Mission as a place where the Episcopal Church holds common ground within and without our own Christian tradition.
It was a delight to see the faces around the room comprehend that they didn’t have to become Episcopalian to pray with us or to join us in God’s mission in the world. They quickly and thoroughly grasped the idea of engaging with God through Christ by practicing these five things; Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, and Treasure. It was an easy transition to do some vocational discernment with them once they could let go of the denominational divide and embrace that which God has given them to do.
My prayers are with them, all of them. And I trust they are holding me and EYE14 in their prayers, too.