Monday, December 29, 2008

Episcopal College Gathering, Day Two

Today was day two of the national gathering of Episcopalian college students in Estes Park, Colorado, themed “S.E.E. the Light.” We heard two sermons, had a Spanish-language Eucharist, participated in two small discussion group sessions, and attended a workshop. I chose the workshop on prayer. (This picture from Estes Park comes from Wikimedia.)

My day started with breakfast, where I bumped into Mary, the grassroots coordinator for the Episcopal Public Policy Network and one of my supervisors from this past summer. It was really good to catch up. I learned a lot from her about both church and DC politics during the course of my internship.

After breakfast we had Morning Prayer, which was followed by a sermon from Terry Parsons, the Episcopal Church Center’s Program Officer of Diocesan Services. Later, after lunch, we had a Spanish Eucharist with a sermon (in English) from Fr. Michael Battle. Fr. Battle was ordained a priest by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and is currently the “provost and canon theologian for the Diocese of Los Angeles, and priest-in-charge of the Church of Our Savior, San Gabriel.” He is the author of “Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu” which has been on my Amazon.com wish list for quite some time now. (Full speaker bios are online here.)

The Eucharist had some great Prayers of the People, and I’ll try to post a copy here later. Ms. Parsons told a compelling personal story about finding her place in Christ’s light as a Baptist missionary in Kenya, and Fr. Battle outlined various aspects of grace and light. I’m not going to go into great detail about either sermon, as such summaries would only erase nuance. I will only pass along two little nuggets from Ms. Parsons. First, she said that sharing one’s background with others is important so that others can understand why one laughs at things generally considered ridiculous or morose. I like that. Second, in describing her Kentucky background, Ms. Parsons said her father called her family “hillwilliams” rather than “hillbillies” because they tended to finish school. I think that’s funny.

The day’s highlight, for me, was “The Prayer Workshop,” led by Pastor Joel Nau, the Lutheran/Episcopal campus minister at the University of Utah, and Tyler, a senior at Texas State. Joel and Tyler began with by saying the point of prayer is a focus on grace and on finding peace. The 25 or so people in the room all discussed our individual prayer lives, and then Joel and Tyler outlined some basic prayer techniques with continued group input. Several recurring themes during the discussion were TaizĂ© prayer, praying while driving, embodied prayer (the importance of good posture, using the body while walking, etc.), favorite prayer sites, Anglican prayer beads, and the importance of intentionally scheduling regular prayer time (something that, at the personal encouragement of Gene Robinson, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the Bishop of Spokane, I have given up trying to do for now). Joel and Tyler discussed lectio divina, free prayer, centering prayer, Labyrinths, and icons.

Early on, Joel said, “I don’t want [this workshop] to be about technique, because it’s about grace.” Still, I would have to say the workshop was about technique. We only discussed the how of prayer, not touching on why we pray or what prayer does beyond the individual experience with grace. There was no discussion of intercessory prayer for others, and we only talked about individual rather than corporate prayer. Still, if I could only choose one thing to focus on, it would be technique, and as a workshop on technique, this was great.

We’ve all been assigned to community groups of about five people. Last night, before I arrived, the groups discussed “what is the light”. This morning, we talked about seeing the light, and tonight, we discussed encountering it. Tomorrow morning we’ll wrap up with embodying the light. I especially enjoyed the morning session. We discussed the questions, “How did you hear about the Episcopal Church?” “If you could be one character in the Bible, who would you be and why?” “What is your favorite story of the Bible and why?” and “What are your gifts?”, among others. The community groups are supposed to be confidential so I won’t describe my groupmates or their answers, but we had a great discussion of why we all enjoy The Episcopal Church. Basically – and this is an answer I hear all the time from Dartmouth Episcopalians – we appreciate that this is a warm church where one can feel comfortable and welcomed. It is not strident, and there is room to grow. That welcome and that room is what young adults need. As the Diocese of Spokane radio ad campaign says, we are “reconnecting the spirit without disconnecting the mind.”

Things wrapped up in free time with a couple rousing rounds of “Telephone Pictionary,” a game I learned just six days ago but is quite fun. Tomorrow’s schedule includes another sermon from Fr. Battle, a sermon from Pastor Joel, one small discussion group, and two more workshops. Right now, however, I’m going to listen to TaizĂ© prayer on my iPod and hit the hay.

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