Young Adult and Campus Ministry

Why Serve 2010: What's color got to do with it?

November 10, 2014
Young Adult and Campus Ministries
Jason Sierra is based in the Seattle Office of the Episcopal Church Center.
With Pentecost behind us and moving into the endless green of Ordinary Time, the summer programming season begins. I kicked it off with Why Serve, a vocational discernment conference for young adults of color at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. Forty-two young adults from across the Episcopal Church gathered atop the mountain for four days of self-examination, fellowship, and a whole lot of forward-moving spiritual mojo. What better time to gather than close on the heels of Pentecost?

I struggle with the idea of segregated events, whether on account of race or culture, gender or age. The body segmented is always incomplete. I felt that pain most acutely a few weeks before the conference as I called to inform an excited young man that he, a self described “caucasian” male, was not the target audience for the event. He was more than gracious about it, even as I clumsily asked him whether he identified as a person of color and explained to him the nature of the event, a collaborative venture between the four ethnic ministry desks of the Episcopal Church: Black Ministries, Asian Ministries, Native/Indigenous Ministries and Hispanic/Latino Ministries. He hung up a little disappointed-sounding and, rightfully, a little put out about the confusion. Where is the vocational discernment conference for him? For all young adults?

The answer, in the end, is two fold. First, our hope is that dioceses might like what it is we have done with this event and replicate it in a local context for all young adults. Some already are doing similar things. I think specifically of Vocare in dioceses like the Central Gulf Coast or pilot discernment programs in places like Atlanta and Upper South Carolina. Our hope is that with the hire of the new officer for Young Adult Discernment and Vocation (a joint position between our office and the Office of Transition Ministry) these efforts will be brought to a higher profile and linked more concretely with one another to hold discernment up as a priority in our work with young adults.

The second part of the answer to why JUST young adults of color has to do with a history that has continually redefined its understanding of the inclusive love of God in ever more far-reaching and yet ever-incomplete circles of the “sacred.” We have unwittingly in our past (and even at present) erased entire populations through our short-sightedness, and there is healing of the body to be done. The segregated event is not the end-goal, but we believe the rupture must be examined from all angles if it is to be healed. We belong to a historically white church and the work of full inclusion, the work of raising up all members of the body, will not happen overnight. Events like this are necessary stepping stones as we move toward a healed body, spaces where the specific concerns of smaller groups within the body can be heard and addressed.

I believe very strongly in the work of the Ethnic Ministry desks, because I believe that, like ministry with young adults, they insist that the gospel, and even the gospel as interpreted by the history of the Episcopal Church is not so culturally bound as we assume, that God can do bigger things with it than just passing it down to our own cultural heirs.

I left this event with a lot of hope and a lot of uncertainty. I found myself strengthened and challenged, having found in it even a small bit of greater clarity around where our office is being called by the Spirit and by young adults themselves. I walked away with some new partners in that work. As a half-Latino, half white young man, raised in a black neighborhood in a Mexican town, my cultural placement is as specific and as narrow as anyone else’s, but over this weekend, I believe we glimpsed, together, what the spirit is doing anew in the many diverse corners of the church, and what our visions together mean for the church as a whole and the Spirit’s work in the world.

Filed under: Why Serve

The Rev. Shannon Kelly

Officer for Young Adult and Campus Ministries and Camino Project Grant

Click here