Thursday, April 19, 2012

Where are the Young Adults?

Here they are:
Group photo at the Saturday evening Eucharist and blessing of seniors in Parke Chapel at St. Andrew's Cathedral

Last weekend was PROV 2012.  Province VIII has a tradition of hosting an annual college student gathering in the spring each year.  Usually a campus ministry hosts it (so it rotates around the Province), and then a design team of students from around the Province plan it.  Since I landed at UC Davis 4 years ago, Prov has been held at Arizona State, San Francisco, and last year at UC Davis.  Taking on the role of Provincial Coordinator, it was my job to find this years' host.  Unfortunately, everyone I asked said they just couldn't do it.  I began to worry that Prov may not happen.

In December, I got a message from a student in Hawaii who had attended all those Provs I listed above.  You see, Province VIII is the geographically largest in our country, including California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, and Taiwan.  "Cohort U," the ministry in Honolulu serving multiple campuses, has always sent 5 or more students to Prov because for them, it is one of the only times and ways they can connect with the rest of the Church.  So this conference is very important to them.

I had to admit to the Hawaiian student that no one had agreed to host it so it may not happen this year.  And then something ridiculous happened: he said the Hawaiian students would host it.  This is ridiculous because: 1) how could we afford to get broke students from broke ministries to Hawaii? 2) the students there don't have a chaplain to help with the planning, 3) would anyone go all the way to Hawaii for just a weekend? and 4) could I help plan something in a place I'd never been and I would not get to until the day the conference began?

But I prayed about it and several things became clear: the students in Hawaii had faithfully attended Prov for many years, and so it seemed right to go to them at least once.  I had no idea how many people would attend, and prepared for the fact that it might be a small conference.  But more than that, when everyone else in our community had said no, here they were bravely saying: "YES, we'll do it!"

And I have to hand it to my chaplain colleagues who agreed to take the plunge with me.  They fundraised, I begged for more funds from various places.  I know there are students who wanted to go but couldn't afford it.  But all in all, 46 students and 12 chaplains from the mainland registered, and we were joined by another 10-15 Hawaiian students.  Which put us around 70 total, which is pretty much what Prov attendance is like each year.  So much for thinking this would be a small conference...

Then I had to find a location in Honolulu to host.  The students sent me a list of possibilities.  As I went down the list, I kept hearing no, after no, after no.  Then finally, I had a conversation with The Very Rev. Walter Brownridge, Dean of St. Andrew's Cathedral.  Their parish hall is under construction, and there were other events going on that weekend (in other words, this was going to be an inconvenience), but he said YES!  Bring the students, we'll make it work. 

Now let's be clear: this was no resort vacation.  We were in downtown Honolulu - not the area where tourists tend to be, so we were in the midst of the 'real' Hawaii.  When we landed in Honolulu and picked up the rental car, the attendant asked if we needed directions and where we were going.  I said, "Downtown Honolulu." 

"Oh, Waikiki?"  He asked.  "No, downtown Honolulu."  I responded.  "Downtown Waikiki?"  he was so puzzled.  Clearly not many people rent minivans and head to downtown Honolulu.

During the weekend, the students were introduced to the Hawaiian Spirituality, and the history of Christianity on the Islands.  We talked about the connection between colonization, oppression, and the Church, and how Anglicanism was introduced by the King and Queen (after being treated like scum in America, they were given the royal treatment by the British Royals and that definitely influenced them a little...).

But more than that, connections were made.  As my colleague Megan+ reflected in her blog, every year at Prov one or more students talk movingly about how this is the first time they've worshipped with other people their age.  They talk about how campus ministry has kept them connected to the church.  Or brought them in to the church, to know Jesus.  Regardless, they talk about how it has changed their lives. 

All of this is to say, with all the budget wrangling going on across the country, and the elimination of Formation funding (which would include eliminating funding for Prov), the use of these dollars for this ministry and this purpose was only validated and strengthened.  It became abundantly clear that this is not only a good use of church monies, it is an imperative one.  And while much anger and frustration at the current state of things (budgets and what not) were expressed by chaplains and students alike, there was also a resolve to not let this happen.  That this ministry is too important.  That these young adults are not the future of the church, they are the church.  And that we will do what we can to help communicate this to the wider church in hopes that General Convention will heed the call and do the right thing in Indianapolis.

Everyone said we could never have Prov in Hawaii.  Well, we just did have Prov in Hawaii.  And if we can pull that off (a bunch of underpaid and mostly marginalized chaplains and students) then I'm pretty confident that the leaders of our church can figure out how to fund this ministry for the next triennium.  As we learned together in Hawaii, the strength of being in a denomination is that we are forced to be connected to people and places we may not choose to be otherwise.  But that is what being the Body of Christ is all about.  If we only focus on "the local level," Prov wouldn't have happened, and the richness and for many life changing spiritual impact that occurred last weekend wouldn't have been possible.  Wanna see what I mean?

P.S. Prov 8 chaplains drafted a letter of protest against the budget.  I posted it on, and it got reposted on social networks and is now a national petition.  Feel free to add your name and comments there.

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