Mission Possible: Youth and the Power of the Holy Spirit
Last year, I told the sixty teenagers gathered in our parish hall that today was the day we would travel to the North Pole. They looked at me quizzically. I continued: “I know it’s June and we’re in Florida. Palm trees. 90 degrees. Zillion-percent humidity. But I promise you, we’re going to the North Pole.”
We were all part of Youth Being Extraordinary Around Tallahassee (B.E.A.T), a ministry of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tallahassee, where I serve as rector. The idea for this community service day camp is simple: teenagers and adult volunteers, empowered by the Holy Spirit, roll up their sleeves and serve God’s people in their hometown.
After all, that’s what God’s people do after they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. They start locally in order to reach the ends of the earth. It’s tempting to focus on the special effects in the story: the mighty wind from heaven, the tongues of fire, thousands of people who speak different languages and suddenly understand each other. But Pentecost is really about a mission possible: how ordinary people like you and me are called to join in God’s work for lasting change in our world.
Mission in the church used to be about what we could do for others. Now, it’s about what God is up to in our world and how we can get on board with God’s mission. Which brings us back to the North Pole. At Youth B.E.A.T., young people gather each morning for worship and a talk by a parish member or community leader. Then, they make their own lunch and head out to work at places like the Kearney Center, an entry point for those experiencing homelessness, or Grace Mission, an Episcopal church across the street from the Governor’s Mansion that serves the poor in Florida’s capital city. At Second Harvest, our youth learn about food insecurity and sort thousands of pounds of food. Then, they go to the North Pole.
A St. John’s family owns an ice cream distribution business. The warehouse where they store the ice cream just so happens to be near Second Harvest. So, the youth go from sorting canned goods in Florida heat and humidity to -20 degrees in the North Pole. To witness their shrieks of shock and laughter when they very quickly tour the facility–and receive a sample of course–is to remember yet again why I love serving as a priest in God’s church.
Pentecost is about lasting change: ordinary people like you and me, empowered by the Holy Spirit to help make God’s mission possible.
I really do have the best job in the world, as I serve not only in a local parish, but also on the board of Episcopal Relief & Development. For the past five years, I’ve done my best to offer my time, spiritual gifts and financial offerings to an organization that I deeply love. However, I’d like to let you in on a little secret: I have learned far more from you, other board members and the Episcopal Relief & Development staff than I could ever give.
I’ve witnessed heartening creativity and faithfulness in many local settings, whether it’s an urban garden in Rochester, hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico, or early childhood development in Zambia. It brings me tremendous joy to serve an organization that partners with local people to work together for lasting change.
Pentecost is about lasting change: ordinary people like you and me, empowered by the Holy Spirit to help make God’s mission possible. Although we may be able to travel to the North Pole, mission begins at home, beginning with our hearts burning with the Spirit of God.
The Rev. Dave Killeen is a board member at Episcopal Relief & Development and serves as rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tallahassee.
Image 1: Youth from B.E.A.T., a Tallahassee youth ministry program, enjoy ice cream after volunteering; Image 2: Youth from B.E.A.T. volunteer at various local nonprofits.