Thursday, January 01, 2009

Episcopal College Gathering, Day Three

Tuesday was day three of the quadrennial national gathering of Episcopalian college students in Estes Park, Colorado, themed “Seek, Encounter, and Embody (S.E.E.) the Light.” We heard two sermons on this theme, attended two workshops, and participated in our final small discussion group. My two workshops were a discussion with Fr. Michael Battle and a panel on discernment & vocation.

The day started with Taize-themed morning prayer and a sermon from Fr. Michael Battle, an expert on reconciliation and non-violence who used to be the Most Rev. Desmond Tutu’s personal chaplain. The sermon was on the third portion of our theme, “Embody The Light.” Dr. Battle said three things keep us from embodying Christ’s light – tribalism, individualism, and competition. He also lamented the fact that in today’s world, we all look for “jobs” rather than our true vocations. It was a very good, and very personal, sermon. My first workshop of the day was the perfect follow-up – a Q&A with Dr. Battle. However, he wasn’t interested in a Q&A, and instead, after a brief homily, led 30 or so students and chaplains in a great discussion of whatever we wanted to talk about. In his introduction, he said that all of us, even introverts, seek community. None of us can be happy by ourselves, but we can find community in God. To suggest God is an individual, Battle said, is heresy – God is three persons in one nature, a community. He reiterated the theme of vocations vs. jobs, and said we need a reference point in order to find our vocations. Rites of passage used to serve as reference points, but as our culture lacks such rites, those points have to be found in community. Our ensuing conversation focused on non-violence and race. Battle was great at bringing in many voices, and we discussed whether or not Barack Obama is really “black,” how politics are discussed in Canterbury Clubs around the country, the white roots and traditions of the Anglican Communion, and how to practice non-violence. On this last point, Battle said we need to get beyond just talking about it and actually implement it, which means not just stopping violent acts, but also advancing purposeful acts of non-violence. Battle said we need to be creative about it, and suggested organizing thousands of people to flood the most violent neighborhoods on Friday nights between 12 and 3am, the most violent three hours. Violence doesn’t occur as often in well-lit or crowded places, so let us erase the dark and empty places by flooding them with people!

My other workshop was a panel on discernment and vocation, featuring a young man who had gone through the formal church discernment process and realized that the priesthood was not for him, a college senior currently in the process herself, and the head of youth ministries for the Diocese of Chicago. It was a well-organized panel and, after hearing the panelists’ stories, we spent a lot of time discussing one student’s question about the nuts and bolts of process and another’s about opportunities in the church for laity, young people, and non-rector priests. While much of it was not new information for me, it was great for anyone just beginning to think about such things. One important point I will remember came from Stephen, the guy who decided against the priesthood. He made the point that whatever you are called to be later, you already are now. You may not have yet learned the skillset, but the underlying spirit is already there. Discernment is as much a process of learning who you are already as it is learning what you will become.

The day closed with a normal Rite II Eucharist and another sermon on embodying the light, this one from Pastor Joel Nau of the University of Utah’s joint Episcopal/Lutheran ministry, who led the prayer workshop I attended on day 2. He talked about embodying the light in the little things rather than the big things. My memory is shoddy and my notes about the sermon shoddier still, so I won’t butcher it by trying to describe it any further. I’ll just say that I do remember finding myself learning from it, and that throughout the whole weekend Joel was a rock-star.

The only other two things of note about Tuesday were that we had our final small group community discussion, and that in between scheduled events I spent some time at the YMCA’s library. The discussion was pretty much the same as Monday – great people in my group, but so-so questions about embodying the light. The library was good, though – a very pretty building with current newspapers and over 20,000 items. I spent around 45 minutes reading a history of Rocky Mountain National Park. My day ended at the “coffeehouse,” where I participated in an epic game of Apples-to-Apples with 24 people playing in pairs.

Though Gather is over and I am now (sadly) at home, more posts are coming, including recaps of snowshoeing, glowing remarks about all the wonderful Episcopalian college students I met (yay new friendships!), the great prayers we had, what Bible characters I hope to most resemble, and socks as stand-ins for sheep.


Jordan said...

For the Bible characters I'm assuming God and Jesus were not in play. :P

It sounds like you definitely had a good time; almost made me wish I'd attend something similar. Unfortunately for that I simply don't find myself affiliated with a particular denomination (or don't want to).

I've never been to Colorado myself other than transferring flights in Denver. It sounds nice, and I take from the first day's post you recommend the scenery.

Also Stephen's comment was ... to put it simply, insightful.

Nathan Empsall said...

I've already written a future post about that Bible question and said nearly the same thing verbatim. :)

If you think this post was glowing wait for the next two, day 4 and week wrap-up. :) The scenery was outstanding. I only had a cell phone camera, but will rip off some other folks' Facebook photos soonish.

Every denomination, including non-denominational, has its ups and downs and its pros and cons. At the end of the day, the Episcopal Church is my hiome.

James said...

He made the point that whatever you are called to be later, you already are now. You may not have yet learned the skillset, but the underlying spirit is already there. Discernment is as much a process of learning who you are already as it is learning what you will become.

Oh, I do like that. I think i may steal and paraphrase that statement. He is absolutely correct, of course.