Recently I retold fifteen stories of Holy Practices that the Spirit Journey Youth use to become a Native youth group of vitality and integrity. This is the blog I intended to write as a prelude to those practices.
I remember when someone dropped out at the last minute and we had one extra seat in the van on a day trip to Phoenix. I call a grandmother to see if her grandchild has a friend he wants to bring along.
“I’ll call you right back,” she says.
She calls backs and says “I called everyone I could but I just couldn’t find someone who had been arrested.”
Shocked, I respond, “He doesn’t have to be in trouble to be in the youth group.”
However, as I reflect on the past thirteen years, our group is made up of those who wanted to be a part of something that is an alternative to drifting as an ignored culture on the border of two major reservations.
The Spirit Journey Youth began as an ordinary youth group in 2000. I had been given a list of youth in two churches whose parents attended Church and left their kids for an hour a week program.
It didn’t work.
We did a lot of traditional youth group stuff and the kids were bored. The five youth who attended drifted away until only one remained. He was the only Native American in the group. He asks, “Could I bring my cousins over? They don’t go to Church but they are in trouble and need something different.”
From then on, the youth recruited themselves from those who had little or no contact with a Church. It became predominantly Native American. Since their parents did not attend and did not have transport, I began picking up the youth each Sunday.
By August, 2013 we had between twenty to forty two youth participating each year. We encountered racism in some congregations who did not like either youth or Native Americans and we began attending only those congregations who welcomed us.
We evolved. Youth came who wanted a different life, a life with purpose. We grew strong as an alternative to gangs or just boredom. Working with street people became our outreach focus. We had events rather than weekly meetings.
How did it happen?
We did serious study, had fun, served others and reflected on what lasted. We met in small and large groups, in homes, parks and cafes. We wrote our own worship service, prayers, psalms and ceremonies. We used the Book of Common Prayer and participated in the great feasts of the Church. We wove in and out of our Church and Native traditions.
We were swimming in a local creek one day when a Native man with his family calls out “Who are you?” as he watches us laughing and playing in the water.
One of the youth yells out “We are Episcopal Natives.”
We became a Sacramental group, a ceremonial group-one who celebrates transitions like birth and death; sacraments that include baptisms, the Eucharist, reconciliation; traditional blessings given and received; and marking holy ground and holy Presence with corn pollen and sanctified water.
The youth became acolytes, lay readers, altar guild and lay Eucharistic ministers. We were given an Eagle feather, gathered our own sage and participated in our own sage blessings. Soon congregations began to ask us to conduct a sage blessing during the Church ceremony.
Since the youth came from a traditional spirituality and profound ceremonies of healing and wholeness, they embraced the sacraments and ceremonies they found in the Episcopal Church. The two religious cultures converged into holy practices that kept us in being in the worst and best of times.
One of the young adults sums it up. “Sometimes we kneel and pray inside a church and sometimes we gather in a sacred circle with sage. There is only one God, the creator who calls us all to walk in the light, to live in beauty.”
May we all live within outward symbols of an inward grace.