Developing The Next Generation of Leaders
As we emerge from the pandemic’s effects on us as a diocese, it has become a critical priority to reimagine old ways of being faithful. The past 1 ½ years have deeply challenged the ways we do “church,” what it means to worship, and what it means to be in community with one another as we strive to move closer towards God. For many, our faith patterns have been so profoundly disrupted that it feels almost impossible to know the right way forward, and equally difficult to discern a path to a greater vitality in the Spirit. At Episcopal Futures, a new initiative launched in the Diocese of New York this past Pentecost, we know that a vital part of that path forward is to engage with, train, and bring to the foreground the next generation of Episcopal leadership.
Episcopal Futures aims to foster revitalization of individual congregations through inter-congregational collaboration. Our “Learning Communities” will bring congregations together to build and develop programs to engage with their broader communities in ways that are specific to each congregation’s needs.
Young Episcopalians are not just a focus of Learning Communities, but essential keys to congregations’ participation in them. Each church forming a Learning Communities leadership team is required to find a lay team member under the age of 30—a requirement that, on first hearing of it, some have called an impossibility; but we’ve been heartened to see most congregations succeed in finding a suitable young person after careful searching within their communities. We have also seen many young people take the initiative in encouraging their congregations to explore participating in the program. These examples highlight an understanding that is fundamental to Episcopal Futures: Young people are not less faithful, but are less frequently reached out to; and by providing young people with an intentional seat at the table, we as a diocese can ensure that our next generation thrives in leadership.
Episcopal Futures’ commitment to youth leadership extends to the makeup of its staff. 29- year-old managing director Abby Nathanson’s previous experience includes developing the Grace Year Fellowship at Grace Church Millbrook in Dutchess county. Additionally, I am the program’s initiative associate at 21-years-old, and our program manager is 30- year- old Davíd Patiño. The plan is to continue this trend of hiring young leaders to work in the program as our team is expanded.
Through Episcopal Futures, we are striving to build a distinctively Episcopalian culture of collaboration. This cannot be done without the contributions of young people—for not only do young people have new ideas about how to build a culture of connectivity—such as innovative ways to use technology and other media—but their commitment to justice is an essential life-giving element of the process. Indeed, this ethical commitment brings great strength to the whole Episcopal Church, for which the focus on serving all creations of God in the spirit of radical love and inclusion is a distinguishing characteristic. Correspondingly, by providing them with a network of support, the Episcopal Church as a whole can ensure that young people have a much-needed spiritual foundation that strengthens that dedication to justice. We hope you will learn more about our initiative at episcopalfutures.org.