By Mark Hatch
Nearly 100 teens and young adults from the Caribbean and Central America gathered in Panama last week for the first ever Province IX Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales (EJE).
The event was named after the triennial Episcopal Youth Event, which since 1982 has brought young Episcopalians together for celebration, worship, learning and leadership training. EJE was financially supported by General Convention 2018 and by a Constable Grant, which is intended to fund special mission initiatives.
“We come to learn from the Word of God, and to learn more about cultures and customs,” said a delegate from Ecuador, who arrived in Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge) excited for this first-ever provincial gathering. One of the musical groups from Honduras, Proclama Worship (Proclamation Worship), spoke to the event’s melding of faith and fellowship, noting “we have a very beautiful friendship relationship, and we are passionate about serving the Lord.”
Participants from ages 16 to 26 gathered to explore scripture, share fellowship, work together in plenaries, and enjoy a variety of worship experiences. A highlight of the event was a Eucharist celebrated by the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the Most Rev. Julio Murray, who is both presiding bishop of the Anglican Province of Central America (IARCA) and bishop of Panama. Workshops focused on four topics: racial reconciliation, evangelism, leadership, and creation care. On-site Safe Church Training for chaperones was provided, as well as opportunities for local cultural exploration.
The core of the gathering was representatives from the Episcopal Church’s Province IX, which includes the dioceses of Central Ecuador, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Honduras and Litoral Ecuador. A more limited contingent from Brazil, Mexico, Cuba and IARCA also came to participate, and to lend their hearts and voices to this burgeoning movement throughout the Americas. IARCA, Iglesia Anglicana de la Region de Central America, is one of the Anglican Communion’s newest provinces, with member dioceses in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama.
The Rev. Canon Anthony Guillen, director of ethnic ministries for the Episcopal Church, spoke to the hope and enthusiasm which fueled the gathering. “EJE19 was a historic event that has been dreamed about and longed for, for generations. This summer it finally became a reality.”
He added, “This is just the beginning. Our hope is that we have helped to set this in motion and in three years, Province IX will provide primary leadership on behalf of The Episcopal Church, with Church Center staff offering support and encouragement. As witnessed this past week at EJE19, there is no doubt that Province IX can lead the way!”
Participants were encouraged to share in the mission of Christ in the world. “Jesus is here, big time!” said Curry in his sermon. His core theme was that “Jesus taught us that love is the key to everything … love is the key to life, family, church, nation, the world.” Curry concluded with an enthusiastic and overarching affirmation of “ubi caritas – wherever true love is found, God is there, because God is love.”
Delegates remarked on the ways in which events like EJE can break down the barriers of isolation and offer insight into neighboring churches. “We are the present, not the future,” exclaimed one excited attendee. Another offered that “young people have new ideas and different ways of seeing things,” a viewpoint that seemed to be broadly and enthusiastically shared.
“The energy in the room has been wonderful,” said Wendy Johnson, officer for programs and events in the Episcopal Church. “Everyone, youth, young adults, chaperones, and bishops seem so excited to be here at this landmark event.” Though no concrete date yet exists for a next provincial gathering, Johnson said she looks forward to “meeting with representatives from each diocese in the fall, to dream about what is next for EJE.”