Episcopal Youth Event:

A week of love and exploration of church

By Saunders Swan

It was an experience that I will never forget.

EYE is an event that occurs every three years for Episcopal youth across America. This summer, EYE ’14 took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the beautiful Villanova campus. More than 1200 high-school students gathered together for three days to worship, explore and understand what it means to be an Episcopalian. People arrived with their diocese from places as far as California and Hawaii, some even coming from foreign countries, such as the Dominican Republic and Taiwan.

The DSO Youth delegation with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

The DSO Youth delegation with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

Everyday at EYE had a different schedule that offered a variety of workshops, services, socials and chances to broaden an individual’s horizons both religiously and culturally. Workshops were a large part of what made EYE such an incredible event. There could be up to ten or fifteen different options for each designated workshop time period. These options ranged from a “Human Sexuality” course to “Drilling the Presiding Bishop.” Each workshop was magnificent and came with interesting learning opportunities and a deeper understanding of the Christian faith. The range was astonishing and allowed every person the chance to go to something they would truly enjoy.

Another amazing part of EYE was the prayer and worship services. Every single person in the room had such joy in their faces and in the way they moved that the Holy Spirit was overwhelmingly palpable. You could see the love on your neighbor’s face for all 1200 people residing in the room even though they did not know most of them. The sounds of thousands of people all singing, worshipping and praising together caused a tremendous feeling of delight to overcome me. It was an experience that I will never forget.

After the three wonderful days spent together on Villanova’s campus, each diocese was encouraged to extend their stay another three days to participate in service opportunities. Each diocese was paired with one or two other dioceses and was given a specific location as to where they would be doing their service. The Diocese of Southern Ohio joined with the Dioceses of Ohio and San Juan to complete the days of service at an elite tuition-free Episcopal middle school in one of the worst neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

One of the jobs the middle school asked us to do was to recruit for their incoming fifth grade class. A small group was created and went out in the surrounding neighborhoods with flyers to hand out and place in mailboxes. It was spectacular to see people’s faces light up as they heard about the fantastic schooling that their kids could receive. This middle school not only offers an Episcopal religious education, but also is in session eleven months in the year, six days a week and ten hours a day, which is vital in keeping their students off of the streets. Many parents had heard about the school (which, alone, was astounding) and knew that it was an opportunity that would benefit their child’s life in the long run. To see the direct impact our service had on the residents of the area was incredibly moving.

The complete EYE experience concluded a week after it had began, and each diocese departed to go on its own way. EYE is a week filled with love and exploration of religion that I highly recommend everyone to experience if they are given the chance.

Saunders Swan was a 2014 EYE participant and a member of Church of the Redeemer in Hyde Park.