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Young Clergy Connect, Learn in Manhattan

About 70 young Episcopal clergy and seminarians gathered in New York on May 9 and 10 to learn from the Presiding Bishop, seven serving bishops, and other senior leaders about their common calling. Hosted by St. Bartholomew’s and Trinity Wall Street, this was the third annual gathering organized by the Rev. Landon Moore, the Diocese of Long Island’s vicar for vocation; and the Rev. Peter Thompson, vicar of St. Bartholomew’s.

Moore told TLC that the 2022 gathering met around a single table and last year’s event had included a few dozen clergy from the four dioceses around New York City. This year’s event drew clergy and seminarians 40 and under from as far as California and Texas.

“Amidst the Episcopal Church’s challenges, we unearthed renewed hope and vitality by sharing our stories and our dedication to serving Jesus. It signifies a significant step forward for our church for us to gather, and I’m hopeful it will spark our sense of commitment to continue in service as leaders,” he said.

The gathering began with the contemporary Imagine Worship service at St. Bartholomew’s, which included a sermon by Bishop Rob Wright of Atlanta and praise music led by the Maverick City Choir. Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows preached the next day at a Eucharist at Trinity celebrated by the Bishop of New York, Matthew Heyd.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry offered a rousing keynote address on Jeremiah 17’s description of a tree with deep roots that thrives in the desert, and answered questions posed by the young clergy for nearly an hour.

“The 1950s are not coming back again, but Jesus is. As long as you know that, you can make it on good days and bad days. You can make it no matter what the challenges are that are before us,” Curry told the young clergy.

“I must decrease, you must increase. My generation, those of us who are of that generation in this church, we still have a job to do, but it’s not our job to lead.”

Asked to reflect on his nine years leading the Episcopal Church, Curry said, “My one objective as Presiding Bishop was to get the name Jesus into the vocabulary of the Episcopal Church, and then I needed to get out of the way.” He also praised the church’s energetic response to the pandemic, joking that a General Convention resolution could never have motivated churches to go online so quickly.

Conference participants and parishioners pass the peace.

Curry urged the young clergy to keep their focus on the Church’s Lord: “However you do it, help folks see Jesus, the Jesus who is real, who got killed because he dared to love, who got killed because he challenged the powers of death, but who rose from the dead.”

The Rev. Caroline Stacey, rector of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village, echoed Curry’s emphasis in an interview session led by the Rev. Julia Macy, associate rector of Grace Church in New York.

“The spiritual disciplines are what holds us. Every generation will have social-justice issues we need to fight for, but beyond all these activities we should be about, it’s Jesus first.”

“I am rabidly hopeful about the future. Never a day goes by when you think, ‘I didn’t do anything good today.’ In my own little corner, I made things a bit better. After 33 years of ordination, I’m more jazzed about being a priest than when I was in my mid-20s,” Stacey said.

She also told the group that entering the ministry early in life, as she had done, can be a great advantage. “It was easy for me to apprentice myself. As young priests, we know we don’t know anything. There’s this eagerness, willingness to try anything.”

In a later session, Trinity’s rector, the Rev. Phil Jackson, and the Rev. Allan Robinson of Grace Church Brooklyn Heights described their approaches to leadership and gave practical tips.

“Your role as a priest is to see in your place what God is doing already and move the congregation there,” Jackson said. He said he had been moving Trinity over the last few years to start afterschool sports programs and provide hospitality to asylum seekers in its immediate neighborhood because “the spirit of Trinity Church is happiest when seen first as a parish church.”

Robinson said that when facing conflict, it’s important to remember, “I am here as a priest. If I become bitter, then I cease to be the leader that the congregation needs me to be. You get the good with the bad, but you have to love them all.”

Jackson encouraged the young clergy to be open to serving in unfamiliar places, noting of his earlier ministry in Texas, “I served in the state where I least thought I would have served. You go where God calls you, where there is a need.”

“If you can’t love people everywhere, you’re not serving. [You need] a heart that understands that your call is to the ‘big Church.’”

The Rev. Leandra Lisa Lambert, assistant rector for social justice and reconciliation at Grace Church Brooklyn Heights, moderated the session with Jackson and Robinson. She said of the gathering, “I left with the wisdom of seasoned colleagues, and the support and commitment of our bishops who remain invested in young clergy across our church.”

“I’ve heard a passion for Jesus, a passion for God, that’s infectious, and we need more of that,” said Milton Gilder, a seminarian from Connecticut who is studying at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale.

The Rev. Spencer Cantrell, priest in charge of St. George’s, Astoria, Queens, was attending his second young clergy gathering. “There’s been a fear of being perceived as being ‘too clericalist’ and hoarding too much time for being together as clergy,” he said. “But I think there’s something really important about being together and celebrating this ministry and vocation we have been given.

“We need more of this, more empowering each other by being together and celebrating. It’s a joyful thing.”

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