BY: Sarah Laribee
The big reveal came slowly and tentatively.
I was sitting on the hard bench of a picnic table in the recreation room of a summer camp. I was the new youth leader at the church in Pittsburgh where I currently serve, and had been on the job for about seventeen minutes.
Having moved from Colorado the week before, I was tired, lonely and certain that I had made a huge mistake. Definitely shouldn’t have had that second piece of pizza right before discerning God’s call to move across country for a job for which I knew I wasn’t qualified. I knew I was where I should be. I just wasn’t glad to be there.
Sitting next to me on the bench was a woman in her mid-twenties, with long curly brown hair and wearing a skirt and sandals to combat the June heat. She was a counselor at the camp that summer and I had met her two days before when she showed up at church on my first day on the job. At camp, we had talked easily a few times since that initial hello at the church, and now the chat on the picnic bench was getting a bit into our faith history.
I had long grown accustomed to not being fully honest about who I was because it was just hard to explain sometimes. I had, ironically, never been ashamed of talking about my faith with other people, but found it hard to explain why I was an Anglican, especially with other faithful followers of Jesus. Sometimes, the practices of my worship just seemed odd to my other Christian friends. And so I developed a habit of shutting that side out of the conversation.
The girl on the picnic bench dropped the word “liturgy” first. I remember her saying it, like someone had opened a door I hadn’t seen before when trying to escape a really stuffy room full of ninth grade guys post a dodge ball game. She said “liturgy” as if it was important, as if it was something of which she wasn’t terrified. And we began talking. And we talked and talked and talked. And it was great.
Those incredible moments of recognition are, I think, the real benefit of our gatherings as Anglicans at things like General Assembly. And those moments can be incredibly important for students as they are trying to figure out exactly where they fit in the Kingdom of God.
As delegates gathered from around the Province to vote and encourage each other at General Assembly in June, a simultaneous gathering was also happening concurrently, as youth from around North America joined together for mutual support, encouragement, prayer and games of Uno.
Juliet Millard, a sixteen-year-old youth delegate at the Assembly was able to join a large portion of the Provincial Youth Gathering when her delegate duties would permit. She even connected with an old friend who had moved to a different part of the country and found immediate connection with the other youth gathered.
“It was just cool to know that it’s ok to be an Anglican,” Millard recounts. “It’s great being a Christian, but except for your youth group friends, you don’t really talk to a lot of other teenagers in your life about being, you know, an Anglican. And getting to worship and just talk with people like you is really a lot of fun.”
About thirty-five teenagers were gathered at the Provincial Youth Gathering (PYG) event, with half of those being official Youth Delegates to the 2012 General Assembly. This gathering allowed for a team of clergy and lay-leaders from around the US and Canada to design an experiential event. What resulted was a carefully-crafted three-day experience combining corporate worship through music, specific liturgies from the United States and Canada to mark the various times of day, speakers on relevant topics and break-out workshops designed to help students engage with the culture in which they lived.
“I like attending the workshops with everyone,” recalls Joel Oliver, a youth delegate from Pittsburgh. “It was really cool getting to vote on things, and see how that side of the church worked. But then getting to go to something that was designed for teens specifically was fun. It was exhausting. But worth it.”
Connections between teens who met at the Gathering have continued since, launching a Facebook group of attendees who talk about how much they love Jesus and how much they miss each other. One post on the Facebook page Anglican Youth Fellowship of Jesus Freaks reads: “Worshipping with you guys was so beautiful and so powerful and yes, I was crying. I don’t feel isolated anymore, I feel loved and blessed. God is so good.”
That girl I sat next to on that picnic bench my first week in town became a fast friend. And then she became my roommate. And she’s been one of my best friends for a few years now, and has helped encourage my faith like no other. And like their adult counterparts, returning to Assembly year after year with old friends, the attendees of the Provincial Youth Gathering have the opportunities to meet others like them, share who they are, and begin to point each other to the grace of our loving God.
Sarah Laribee is the Director of Student Ministries at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, PA. Born in Texas and having grown up in Kansas and Colorado, Sarah still finds herself fiercely proud to call the “steel city” her own. With a professional background in public teaching and college ministry, Sarah has yet to find a conversation with people that she does not enjoy. As Director of Student Ministries she is blessed to spend her time hanging out with kids, talking to parents and grappling along with everyone else for what it is to live out our individual stories in the context of God’s great story. It is her favorite thing to have deep talks about the Gospel and the Jesus who has come to live with and among us.
Photo: Sarah Laribee, Director of Student Ministries, Church of the Ascension, Pittsburgh