Guest Columnist: Elena Rodenborn
To be honest, when I decided to sign myself up for EYE, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I knew that it was a longstanding Episcopal tradition, and that it only happened once every few years, and I decided that it was worth a shot, why not put myself out there and try to get involved? I honestly didn't have many (if any) expectations going in, rather anticipating just going with the flow. I can safely say however, that EYE blew my nonexistent expectations out of the water. Between meeting amazing mentors and connecting with equally amazing fellow youth, EYE was truly a transformative experience.
One of the things that immediately struck me at EYE was the warmth and acceptance of everyone there. In my experience, of course it is always wonderful and impactful to hear that the Episcopal Church is open and affirming, that everyone is welcome and loved for who they are, but it's an entirely different experience to be placed into an environment full of Episcopalians, young and old, trading rainbow stickers and openly and proudly discussing parts of them that anywhere else might have been forcefully repressed. As a young lesbian, I never felt uncomfortable or even hesitated in mentioning my girlfriend to people. The impact that the kindness and welcoming nature of the people at EYE had on me is one that I will not soon forget, and I came away from the experience even more proud of my church and amazing faith community. At EYE I was able to truly feel the unconditional love that we preach, radiating from all my fellow attendees, and it was nothing less than deeply moving and heart warming.
Another thing that made an impression on me was the cross-cultural aspect of EYE. It was wonderful to be able to meet and interact with Episcopal youths not only from other states, but also from other countries and continents. Our own delegation of course included members of the Diocese of Belize, who were amazing to get to know and spend time with. Along with them, I was also able to meet Episcopalians from Europe, Mexico, Guam, even as far away as Taiwan! To be able to congregate and worship with such a wide variety of people from such a wide variety of cultures was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I am endlessly glad that I partook in. I was also glad to learn about cultures closer to home, especially Native American culture (specifically Lakota) from the amazing Rev. Isaiah Brokenleg, who I was lucky enough to attend a workshop presented by.
There were so many wonderful speakers and preachers, each of whom brought their own distinct personal experiences to the table, and it made for a more well-rounded and moving overall experience.
Last but certainly not least, I want to talk about the worship experience at EYE. The services were much bigger than any that I've ever experienced, with around a thousand people seated before the main stage and giant screens that projected live video, PowerPoint slides or lyrics to songs, depending on what was required at the moment. The live band was a particular standout that quickly became beloved amongst the attendees (they were begged to give several encores on the final day, and very kindly obliged). I was a little worried that I would feel uncomfortable in such a large crowd, or that the services would be difficult to connect with as a side effect of needing to appeal to so many people, but I found the opposite to be true. The preachers were all phenomenal, and rather than feeling drowned out by the crowd, I felt connected and supported by the youth and adults that surrounded me. I especially enjoyed how parts of the service were in Spanish, so everyone could feel included and welcome.
All in all, I definitely enjoyed going to EYE, and it's an experience that I will hold with me as I enter the next phase of my life and start college and adulthood. Being able to be in a space with, and meet, so many amazing people was a truly moving experience and one that I wouldn't give up for the world. I hope that in the years to come, more youth of the Episcopal Church will be able to experience the same joy that I did.
Elena Rodenborn, Trinity Cathedral