Monday, July 13, 2009

Article For The Newsletter At Convention

The greatest gifts God has given me are a voice and an opinion (and for better or worse, I am very blessed). Over the last three years I have used these gifts to advocate for a group that I think has been let down by the church for generations. Before that I was a cradle Episcopalian who was very active as a youth in the church but had not seriously been to church in about eight years for a myriad of reasons. Most importantly, I think that I had convinced myself that there was no place for me in the church anymore. I used the years after high school making mistake after mistake and “proving” that God and the Episcopal Church had left me far behind. The most important thing I can tell you about my time away was that the longer I stayed away, the more disenchanted I became with the church and the harder it was for me to go back.

When I finally had the courage to come back to the church I began to remember a language that had been forgotten by me long ago. I could once again explain where my heart and my mind intersected and people actually understood what I was talking about. It was such an amazing feeling. As the Diocesan Coordinator for Young Adult Ministries in the Diocese of Atlanta, I have been able to use that language to advocate for a group that I think is largely forgotten and misunderstood in the church world. As youth we are put out in the spotlight and then just expected to quietly integrate into becoming an “adult” member of the parish as soon as we turn eighteen. I think that this is one of the biggest mistakes the church is currently making. In a majority of cases we are not given the skills or support to accomplish this goal and then people wonder why we aren’t filling the pews every Sunday. If we want to be honest, most of us are leaving the Episcopal Church for other denominations or non-denominational churches because it seems like they are the only ones equipping people in their twenties to become vital parts of the church body. I don’t think we are there because we like the theology or the fact that in most cases there is no liturgy, I think we are there because they are the only ones that are giving us community and making us a priority.

So what can we do about that Lauren? Well, I am glad you asked. I think we can start by educating people as to what defines a young adult. And how do we do that Lauren? We give them the opportunity to be in front of people the way the youth are. We are often lumped in with youth in ways that make it hard to define our identity. Our parents aren’t driving us to church on Sunday. We are not living in a school environment that gives us loads of time to spend cultivating our relationship with God. We are out in the real world trying to decide how we will actually survive the next eighty something years without failing and ending up broke and alone. This is something we will struggle with for only you know how many years, because you have been there. Remember?

Do us a favor, let us stand up and tell you who we are. Put us on the pedestal next to youth and allow us to tell you how we are different and why we can’t be lumped together. Let us tell you why we are lost and why we need you to mentor us in the ways of being an adult. It might seem scary, but it isn’t hard. All you do is approach a young adult and say hello and how are you, we will do the rest. We are ready to speak, but unsure of how to ask for that right because we are out of the spotlight. Please don’t forget us…..again.

Day 2 of the Young Adult Festival in Anahiem, CA

Today was a much more interesting day here at Convention. My roommate and I stayed up until like 2 am talking, which is 5 am in Atlanta, so I tried to sleep in to keep myself from dragging all day. I woke up and got ready and went downstairs to catch the 9:20 shuttle, but found out that the times were wrong and that the shuttle came to the hotel on the hour and to the convention center on the 20. So I decided to walk the 2 ½ miles to the convention center. I got about halfway there when I realized that my shoes were killing my feet and I had blisters everywhere. I am not happy about that, because now my feet are going to hurt all week. Luckily, I came across a Target and went in to buy a new pair of shoes that didn’t hurt.

When I finally got to the center, I walked in to find people milling around everywhere. I tried to call my friend Rachel Swan to see where she was, but she was off working with the Integrity group on the Eucharist they were having later that night. I went in to the hall of deputies and listened to people talk about resolution B033, which is the resolution passed on 2006 that put a moratorium on electing openly gay bishops. Two members of our Diocese spoke. I should probably take a minute to explain how the governing body works. There are two houses, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. They each hear legislation and “arguments” on different topics and then vote. A resolution can only pass if both houses vote it in. B033 seems to be the big elephant in the room at this convention. I think people are ready to make a decision about it and it seems as though they are leaning towards revoking it in some fashion. This is a huge hot button issue, because the Anglican Communion has specifically asked us to wait for more discussion before we take any more steps on this issue. I think if it is removed, we will have an even more difficult time ahead of us.

The hardest part of listening to these people speak for me was one specific man. He got up to the microphone and said that he and his wife have a daughter who is gay. The thing that struck me about this statement is that he followed it by saying “do we like that she is gay? No, but we love her anyway”. He wanted us to wait on revoking this piece of legislation until we have further support from the Communion. It was very hard for me to hear a man speak of his daughter in such a callous way. I am sure he did not mean it, but it sounded like he was embarrassed of her and that he wanted to act like that part of her life was just a phase. I feel bad for the large number of GLBT people who get this reaction from their loved ones. It must hurt a lot to have someone who has loved you unconditionally for so long find out that you are gay and then seem as if they are turning their back to you with disgust. I hope that the people in that community can find unity and peace with each other.

After I listened in, I went over to the Great Hall to check out the booths for all the different ministries. I only got through one row before Rick Calloway called to let me know where they were sitting at the Eucharist and I went to look for them. I never found them, but I did end up sitting with Bishop Alexander and Janet who is the woman who puts our Diocesan Convention together. The altar was enormous and was overflowing with baskets of bread and jars of wine. It is really neat to watch 3,000 people receive the Eucharist together.

Next was lunch followed by a few workshops. I went to one on what young adults are looking for in the church and the other was on the different service corps opportunities for young people. We have year long domestic and international programs and then one 8 week domestic program. I thought both were very interesting but mostly things I had heard before. I really wish I had known about the mission work when I was younger. I am not sure if I would have gone then but I am very jealous now that I am too old. I spoke with some people from Boston about a new servant leadership type program they are starting there that sounds very intriguing. I hope to meet with them again later in the weekend to discuss it further.

After workshops I came back to the hotel to change my shirt, because it had ripped early in the day and I was embarrassed that I was walking around all day with it like that. Carlton, Brian, Amelia, Lucy, and I went to grab a bite to eat, and then Brian, Amelia, and I went back to the Hilton for the Integrity Eucharist. I saw Rachel for a brief moment and then said hello to her wife who I hadn’t seen in a while. The Eucharist was amazing. Gene Robinson was the celebrant and there was a wonderful sermon about respecting the integrity of all human beings. Rebecca ? spoke about the interesting dynamic of ordaining GLBT people to the Deaconate if we are then going to say that they can’t be Bishops. She went on to talk about why we even baptism them at all if we are just going to treat them like second class citizens who are not worthy of the same rights. She was very engaging and funny, so it was a great sermon. Everyone kept speaking to the passage in the book of Acts that talk about the story of Cornelius and his call from God to find Peter and be baptized alongside many different types of people. The scripture goes on to say that there will be no outcasts and that all are welcome.

The service was very powerful. There was beautiful African, Hispanic, and Hymnal music throughout the service and a wonderful choir from All Saint’s LA. I was really happy to see the number of GLBT clergy and advocates there are in the church as a whole. Afterwards, Brian and I went to meet with the other people from Atlanta and hear their debrief. It was nice to see everyone and we got to share some of what we have been doing over here. Everyone seemed really excited to see me, which made me feel really at home. I really do love my job and the people I work with. I am so blessed to be cared for by some many WONDERFUL human beings that are on a whole other playing field than I am.

Well, I am off to sleep and exhausted. I will see you tomorrow. Night

Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 1 of the Young Adult Festival in Anaheim, CA

Brian Freese and I were lucky enough to get to participate in the Young Adult Festival at General Convention this year. Brian met me at my house at 7:45 and we left about 8 am. Pat drove us to the airport and we were really early. We ended up running in to Heather Mills who I know from the Vocare community. We talked with her before getting on the plane. The ride was pretty smooth, but long. I slept about the first 40 minutes, and then woke up to a crying baby who stayed that way for the next 4 hours. It was not a lot of fun, but the baby came up by me a couple of times and I played and made faces at him to get him to be quiet a couple of times.

When we got to John Wayne Airport, we caught our shuttle to the hotel. In the van we met a girl from Oregon who was not Episcopalian, but was going to meet her mom at the Marriott. Her mom is a deputy and she and her sister were coming down to keep her company. She works for Nike as a forecaster which of course I found very interesting given my background. I am always fascinated at how small the Episcopal community is. It seems like it would be such a small place, but it is very incestuous.

We got to the hotel and checked in. My roommate is on the planning team and I really like her. I got up to the room and started ironing my plethora of clothing for the week. I did notice when I checked in that I didn't know very many people here. I really miss some of my friends like Stephen, Will, and Rachel. I am very happy that Rachel is at convention though. I hope to see her tomorrow.

Brian and I went and got some food at the AWESOME Mexican fast food type place. It is better than Willy's which is a great honor for me to bestow. I wish we had one in Atlanta. I had a burrito, black beans, and a Dr. Pepper. We walked back to the hotel and Brian went to take a nap. I went upstairs and showered before heading downstairs for the meet and greet.

When I got downstairs, I ran in to Matt Scully, who is was a great friend of mine from Kanuga. We have not seen each other in at least 12 years, so it was super cool to see him again and meet his wife. We are Facebook friends, but that isn't nearly as great as catching up in person. I met a bunch of new people and said hello to some old acquaintances: Randall and Molly from Arkansas, David Sibley from Upper SC, Ewart from Texas, Carlton from Cali, Patricia from Kentucky, and few others.

We had a wonderful Compline with James and Kevin who are from the Diocese of Texas, and are wonderful musicians. They play the guitar and a bunch of types of drums. I am a huge fan of precussion so I really enjoy it when they do the music. After Compline, Mary Getz from the EPPN came in to debrief us on how convention is going so far and what is coming up tomorrow. Apparently she will be doing that every night which is super cool. There are some young adults from the Episcopal Church of Scotland that I have yet to talk to, but would love to make pen pals with.

After the debrief, Ewart, Patricia, Lem and I went to grab a beer. I ended up spending the whole time talking about our Diocese and some of the struggles I have with my job. It was really embarrassing that I monopolized the conversation so much, that when we left, I came straight to the room and let them get away from me. When I got back the room was empty, but eventually Wendy came back and we talked for an hour and a half about gangs, the over sexualization of women, the nature of women to hurt each other, cultural differences, and how she became a member of the Episcopal Church. She lives is Houston and is a first generation Mexican in her family along with her three older brothers. I like her a lot. We have a lot in common.

It is around 1 am here now, which is 4 am in Atlanta. I am getting up in about 5 hours to go to the convention floor and am really nervous about what I will find. I think that this experience will be very eye opening for me. I am nervous that the Episcopal Church will let me down when I really see how we work together. I am afraid that it will effect my relationship with this wonderful passion I have for advocating our place in the Christian world. I am hopeful that I will come away from this experience with a better understanding of the Communion and why it is necessary in the web of the Episcopate. I hope that I will better understand our future and who we think we are in the now.

Hopefully talk to you tomorrow,

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How I and others began a young adults ministry.

After I found my new home in Christ at Emmanuel Parish, I began to sense a need for a more proactive way of reaching out to the young adults in my parish. At the same time I wondered about those like me who may be seeking a place to connect or reconnect with your faith in God. I also felt moved to explore how these two thoughts might be the start of something to offer young adults an opportunity for knowing one another, for support each other and for building a sense of community. This, I found after discussion with Emmanuel Parish's associate rector Fr. Edwin, is very much what a young adults ministry would be for the parish.

So I began to work on the idea in earnest using the Internet for information and resources. I continued my conversations with Fr. Edwin. I reached out to the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, and I came to know Lauren, their coordinator for young adult ministries. The process of starting a ministry for young adults in the greater Athens area has begun!

The process of starting this new ministry for young adults wasn't easy. The first step was prayer. Lots of prayer seeking direction and purpose for this new effort. It seemed upon reflection that Fr. Edwin and I were both equally enthusiastic about the prospect, and our combined gifts would make for a good start in the effort.

We organized a planning meeting with Lauren to brainstorm and discuss the type, time and location of our initial activities. This discussion continued for a few months until we believed a good decision was reached: we'd meet monthly for a casual social event in order to introduce the new ministry to young adults within and outside of the parish. The monthly event was to be called a “Meet and Greet” and would be held at a local restaurant downtown close to the University of Georgia campus. We decided upon a name: Emmanuel Episcopal Young Adults, which goes by the acronym E2YA.

The first “Meet and Greet” had more than twenty young adults! We met at a local pizza pub, and everyone appeared to enjoy their time together. In the months that have followed, we've continued this event and attendance varies according to the academic calendar at the University of Georgia and the season of the year.

In recent months, we've introduced a Sunday gathering following the 10:30 Eucharistic Service. This is a casual brunch at a restaurant downtown immediately after the service. It's a great way for our young adults to gather after worship and share with one another.

Soon, Fr. Edwin wishes to introduce an additional worship opportunity for our young adults that offers a departure from the traditional Daily Office services. This effort, like our other efforts, is being planned carefully and explored with our young adults to make sure we're meeting their needs for community and a greater spiritual life.

If someone asked me what exactly did you do to start a young adults ministry in your parish, I'd offer the following steps:
1. Pray about beginning the ministry for young adults. Open your heart and empty yourself to be receptive to what God is calling you to do.
2. Obtain the permission, input and support of your clergy. Make sure they're involved in every facet of the ministry so that you can benefit from their expertise and experience.
3. Determine the demographics of your parish and the larger community you wish to reach.
4. Consider fact finding, casual questioning, or a formal survey to gage what young adults in yoru parish may wish to experience in their faith journey.
5. Develop a contact list of those who may be interested in participating. Keep them informed of what's going on and where it's happening. If there are opportunities beyond your local ministry, be sure to share that information, too.
6. Gather and do so often! Build your sense of community. Engage those who attend your events. Encourage them to come again and share their needs with you.
7. Consider additional activities to meet the needs expressed.

Above all remember that a young adults ministry is about offering opportunities for knowing one another, for supporting each other and for building a sense of community in your parish and beyond.

Thanks be to God!

How I became an Episcopalian.

There is a time in a person’s journey through life that what matters most becomes clear. Some may call this an epiphany or a moment of great revelation. Others experience this clarity in a subtle, almost unperceived way through evolution of thought. For some, this may never happen. For me, this understanding began with the passing of my mother after a three year battle with cancer. All the challenges, hardships and trails of my journey through life were made trivial as I cared for and watched my mother slowly succumb to cancer.

Here my story of renewed faith begins.

Some years ago in my early twenties, an elder in the congregational church where I attended services preached a message of hate and intolerance. His message didn’t seem very Christ-like to me, and the elder ended with an admonition for those who disagreed with him to leave the church. I was dumbfounded at his message, and I couldn’t reconcile it with what I knew of scripture. That is when I stopped attending church services, and I began to question my religion.

At the same time, my professional life began to accelerate, and I was working long hours often six days a week. My Sundays became for me a day for catching up on household tasks, running errands, and otherwise occupying myself with life’s chores.

Just before Christmas in 2001 I received a phone call from my mother. Through her tears and mine we talked about her diagnosis of cancer. We talked about treatment options. We discussed the plan to attack the cancer and how it could save her life. She was too young to die. We prayed for a miracle.

My mother did well enough for nearly three years as the treatment weakened her body, but fought back the cancer. Then she became quiet. Her body was drained of fight, and she knew her time was short. She silently prayed for peace. Although she was baptized, she still feared death. We cried together, and her reassurance was reading the Word and listening to hymns of praise.

My mother died.

Everything else that seemed to matter to me – career, income, objects – now seemed so trivial. All the challenges, hardships and trials of my journey were nothing compared to the anguish that my mother had faced. In my quiet moments, I found myself praying for her. I found myself praying for me. My comfort was once again found in Christ, and I realized how my soul ached for a reconnection with worship. My soul felt like a cracked, barren desert devoid of life and thirsty for drink.

As I was driving home one day I passed an old stone church. It wasn’t like the congregational church I’d attended years ago. Rather than being austere and somber, it had beautiful stained glass windows and gardens for meditation. It was Emmanuel Episcopal Church. I emailed and then talked with the pastor, who I found was a priest. Robert is his name. He offered a kind voice and encouragement to me. He invited me to visit the church and enjoy the love of Christ once again. It was the invitation for worship I had longed for these many years.

Nervous as I was because Episcopal worship was so unfamiliar to me, I went to the service that Sunday. I was welcomed by two people who greeted me with smiles and shared some basic hints about the way of worship. It was so different from the congregational church I had attended in my youth. It was a beautiful place surrounded by scenes of holy events embodied in stained glass. There was an altar and an organ. Candles glowed and the choir sang. And for the first time in my life I actually felt the Divine Presence during worship. My heart swelled in my chest, and as I left after the service Robert hugged me. He was glad I was there, and he hoped I would come back.

I found a new home in the body of Christ that day.

In the months that followed, my soul felt renewed like a lush, green field refreshed by cool rain and sowed with the seeds of life. There was Inquirer’s class I attended followed by a Confirmation class. Then there was Confirmation.

The Holy Spirit came to me in my life's journey.

I went with friends to the Episcopal Cathedral in Atlanta. I’d never been to a church that large, that grand and that awesome. It was most exciting, and I felt the energy and enthusiasm of those with me from my parish. As I knelt at the altar and Bishop Neil laid his hands upon my head, my mind emptied of all thought and was silent. His voice echoed in my mind as Bishop Neil spoke, and I felt the very real presence of the Holy Spirit come upon me through the laying of his hands upon my head and the echoing of his words in my mind. For the first time in my life, I was fully present and fully aware of a moment in time and in doing so opened myself to God's love.

My journey continues, and my faith has been renewed. My spiritual life has been reinvigorated. The Holy Spirit moves me in my life towards opportunities for service to the church and beyond. The glorious gift of God’s grace reassures my soul.

With each day, I pray for my mother. I thank her for helping me understand that all the challenges, hardships and trails of my journey through life are in fact trivial when compared with the opportunity of everlasting life through Christ.

When I talk with friends about life, sometimes we find the chance to talk about faith, worship and religion. I ask them if they’ve had a bad experience in a church or if they’ve found worship titular and empty. I ask them if they live a high pressure life that begs for Sunday morning in bed. I ask them if they feel uneasy walking into a building and sitting in a crowd of people where you don't know a soul and don't know when to stand, sit, kneel, or sing.

Then I share my story and an invitation. Thanks be to God for Emmanuel and for Robert's invitation to me.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 5-NYC-Wednesday

Today was so much fun. We got up and I led morning prayer before we headed off to the train. We got on the 1 going north for once and were taking it all the way to the Cloisters which is kind of far out of town. Apparently my map and google maps imagined the stop we wanted and before we knew it we were in the Bronx. It was a great adventure!!! We ended up riding the train to the end of the line and then switched trains to come back up to the Cloisters. When we got on the new south bound train, someone had thrown up on the floor. It was really gross and not my favorite memory about being here so far. When we finally figured out how to get out of the subway station, we walked through a beautiful park and ended up asking for directions to the museum.

I was very surprised when we arrived that they had trouble with our tickets. The Met and the Cloisters are a suggested donation. I paid the full amount online ahead of time so that we wouldnt have to wait in line. I think that if you have the money you should pay the full amount. Plus I don't think that $27 for two museums and two audio tours is a bad price, but apparently people were really surprised that we had paid the full amount.

I thought the Cloisters were so neat and beautiful. I have never been to a monastery, so learning about the architecture and the lives of the monks was really cool to me. I loved all the chanting music they had in the background of the audio guide. Alayna had asked that we write down something that stood out to us on a note card for debrief later and my first thing was in the Cloisters. They had a replica of a chapter room where the monks would sit each night and hear a chapter from their rule book. I dont know why I liked the idea of that so much, but I think it had a lot to do with the discipline and patience it must have taken to be a part of a community like that. I have always wished that I had that type of discipline.

Next we got back on the train and went to St Mary's Times Square for Eucharist. That church is lovingly called Smokey Mary's because the incense runs freely all over the beautiful sanctuary. We all really loved the service, and afterward the verger gave us a tour of the church. I have been so surprised and happy with how hospitable this Diocese is. It is so wonderful to be in a place where people seem genuinely happy to see us. A woman named Gypsy decided to stay and eat lunch with us which was really cool.

We left the church and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I love museums and that is one I could get lost in forever. There was an exhibit on fashion that I found absolutely fascinating. It showed clothing and models from every decade since the 60's. It was cool for me, having a degree in fashion, to see the way clothing and modeling has changed over the last 5 decades. Little Beth and I also went to see some paintings by a few FAMOUS artists before heading over to an exhibit on the way New England homes have changed over the last few hundred years. It was very interesting to see the changes in architect, design, and decoration. Each room had a computer where you could look up the family who owned the house, the style of the house, and then each individual piece in the room by a touch screen. It was so cool. I would love to have one of those at every museum I go to.

It started raining as we got on the bus home, and so we split up to get dinner. WE came back and Alayna led the discussion and Compline. It was her first time doing compline, and I thought that she did a fantastic job. Tomorrow is mostly a free day!!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A blog entry from Tiffany Hatfield

Wow! I can hardly believe that I am blogging in New York City... I'm so hip and urban now. ;)

Okay, so far this pilgrimage has been really interesting. Yesterday (Monday) perhaps was the most moving day so far, and I imagine for the whole trip. It gave me a unique perspective on what it means to be an American, to be a Christian, to be an Episcopalian. To see the Statue of Liberty from a boat like immigrants to this country would have seen was the start, and then to go to Ellis Island where you can feel the people and hear voices of those who passed through both rooted us in the feeling of arrival that comes on pilgrimage.

To have that feeling combined with the emotions that came earlier that day from walking around Ground Zero was even more intense. Everything about that walk around Ground Zero was surreal. Listening to survivors and rescue workers recounting their tales through my headphones while watching people pass by in the hustle and bustle of city life- seemingly oblivious to their surroundings- gave me a powerful image of what that area was like at 8:30 on September 11. People were just walking along, listening to iPods, talking with their friends, reading briefs for work-- it was so totally normal. Then to think that at 8:46 the whole world changed, and it is likely that some of those people who were hustling along- just like the people I was watching- were gone or about to be. Surreal really doesn't even begin to describe it.

Today was a different experience entirely. It was equally as moving, but for far different reasons and in far different ways. We were welcomed with open arms and hearts to the headquarters of the Episcopal Church by people with an intense passion for the work that they were doing. We talked, shared, and laughed together. I think many of us also allowed ourselves to stand in awe of the great church of which we are a part. These individuals form a tremendous patchwork quilt of ministry that gives the Episcopal Church its own particular flair, and it was a privilege to hear about their ministries and share our passion for our own (young adult ministries). It was also striking how supportive each of these individuals were of each other. You could tell that they enjoyed not only telling about their work but hearing about the others' work as well.

There is so much more to say about this experience, and I am sure that in time I will come back to blog more. For now, let me end by quoting a line from a song in the soundtrack of my favorite movie (You've Got Mail), which has been running through my head all week, "I guess the Lord must be in New York City." Indeed He is.

Blessings and peace!