An Open Letter to Bishop Daniel Martins

The Right Reverend Daniel Martins is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield.  At the current General Convention of The Episcopal Church he recently tweeted “ Never very impressed with the “official youth presence.” How do they get chosen?”,  followed by “Meant no offense re GCOYP. Just being honest about my experience over 5 GCs. Steady progressive orthodoxy; not much Jesus”.  GCOYP stands for the “General Convention Official Youth Presence” a group of teens selected in pairs from each province of our denomination to insure that the voice of young people are heard at the highest level. This is my response to him.

Greetings Bishop Martin,

I don’t believe we’ve ever met so let me introduce myself.  I am a 50-something year old cradle Episcopalian.  Over the last 25 years I have served as a youth minister at the congregation level (as a volunteer), at the diocesan level (as Diocesan Youth Missioner in the Diocese of Western New York for 13 years) and currently serve a congregation in the Diocese of Southern Virginia as the full time Director of Youth Formation.  During my time in diocesan ministry I served as the Provincial Youth Ministry Coordinator for Province II on two occasions.  In that position I worked with the GCOYPs at three of the last five General Conventions.

Let me begin by asking you a question.  Have you ever spent any time with the GCOYP, individually or as a group?  Before you make a judgement of them I would recommend it.  While from your position it may appear that there is a uniformity of theology to these groups I can assure you there is not.  Division on some the most hotly debated issues facing our denomination during this time period has been a real and very painful part of the GCOYP’s experience.  You will find a diversity of opinion, theology and personal piety in the groups.  I can assure you that Jesus has been held dear by all three of the groups with whom I worked.  I have no reason to believe that the current group is any different.

Having been through the selection process three times, I can assure you that ZERO time was spent applying any kind of theological filter to those selections.  Drawing from the available pool of applicants (which we always wished was larger) we considered leadership ability, involvement with their home parish and diocese plus personal abilities to work under pressure and with people with whom they may disagree.  I am proud of the three groups that I helped discern and was honored to walk along with them in their ministry.

As for the selection, it’s pretty simple.  At a certain point prior to General Convention the application period is opened.  Word of this application process is sent to all the provinces and dioceses.  Young people must discern their own call to be involved and submit the appropriate paperwork and recommendations.  Since I have left the provincial ministry at this point in my own journey I will note what happened during the three GCs where I was involved.  It may have changed somewhat since then.  The Provincial Youth Ministry Coordinators (PYMCs) along with the denominational staff person for youth ministry (Betsy Boyd and Bronwyn Clark Skov in my time) receive, review and ponder the applications.  They then gather for a time of prayerful discernment to select two young people from each province.  We worked very hard to get the best balance we could to represent the diversity of our denomination.  Were we perfect?  Certainly not.  But it was not through a lack of trying.  The greatest obstacle was small candidate pools when dioceses do not encourage their youth to put their names forward.

Once selected the GCOYP members are gathered together and given extensive training in how denominational governance works, how to conduct themselves, what they are permitted (by canon) to do and what they may not do.  In my time I spoke to them about how to deal with the media, based on my previous career in the media.  Prayer is a consistent part of their time together as well.  One adult from each province serves as “staff” for the youth of that province.  We are there to support and assist them in any way possible.

One of the things the adults are clearly instructed NOT to do is to “put words into their mouths”.  Everything you hear those young people say are their ideas, their words.  Some of the adults will help them polish the delivery but we do not enter into forming the ideas.  That would directly contradict the function which the young people are called to fulfill.  They are to offer up a voice of our younger generation to the governing body of the church.  In my time serving with GCOYP I know that the adults were meticulous in that pursuit.

My experience with the three GCOYPs buoyed my faith in our denomination.  They humbled me with their faith.  They inspired me with their dedication.  They challenged me to think more deeply.  They blessed me with their friendship and trust.

I would like to urge you to find the time to meet and talk with this year’s GCOYP.  I know that will be difficult, perhaps even impossible, because of the busyness of both your schedule and theirs.  A meal might be an excellent opportunity for casual interaction with some or all of them.  Talk to them.  Ask them about themselves, their homes and their life in faith.  Ask them about Jesus.  Share with them your concerns for them and the church in general.  My prediction is that you will find them to be intelligent, thoughtful, faith filled and deeply invested in our church.  They will listen respectfully, and will question your with equal respect if they disagree.  I believe you will be impressed.  I’m betting you might even walk away thinking “I’d love to see one of our young people serving next time”.

May God bless your ministry and strengthen you during this busy time.

Peace

Jay Phillippi

Me with the Province II youth in Minneapolis

Me with the Province II youth in Minneapolis

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2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Bishop Daniel Martins

  1. Jay,

    I am deeply grateful for your gracious letter and your thorough explanation of the GCOYP process. Thank-you.

    I certainly regret sending out that tweet. Any point I may have wanted to make was hugely overshadowed by the consternation it has apparently provoked. So not worth the cost.

    I have no basis on which to challenge your description of how the young people are chosen and how they are mentored with respect to General Convention, nor do I have any desire to do so. I realize that I have only a limited slice of the total picture. Nonetheless, for whatever it’s worth, that limited slice, over five consecutive General Conventions, has tended to look consistently the same. I wonder why that is. (I don’t purport to have an answer to my own question. )

    It would give me great joy to meet with any or all of the young people involved in the GCOYP. Believe it or not, I think it’s safe to say that I am more directly involved in diocesan youth ministry than many of my colleague bishops. As I look at the schedule, either breakfast or lunch on Sunday might be possibilities, or perhaps dinner on Wednesday.
    Blessings,

    +Daniel

    (Note: The Bishop provided contact information which I have deleted from his response. Sadly, even in the body of Christ there are some who might abuse that sharing.)

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  2. Thank you Bishop Martins (I swear I will get your name spelled correctly eventually!). With my new ministry in Virginia I am not with the GCOYP this year but I have passed your information and offer along to the leadership in Salt Lake City.

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