The Diocese of Long Island Provides Ongoing Learning Opportunities for Laypeople

I recently had the pleasure to attend a fantastic event at the Diocese called “The Youth and Family Support Summit.” Episcopal Ministries (formerly Episcopal Charities) combined forces with Youth Ministries to create a day filled with dynamic speakers, workshops and an opportunity to brainstorm ... all designed to address issues that affect families.

The day began with presentations from a panel of folks that are on the front lines in the fight to strengthen families. Steve Chassman, director of LICAD* gave a fascinating, yet disturbing take on the meteoric rise in the substance abuse crisis. He asked us, “Why are so many adolescents anesthetizing themselves?” and expressed concern that we are “losing a whole generation.” While he gave many reasons for the situation, what struck me the most is that we have failed to give our young people healthy coping skills so they reach for artificial sources: Scared? Reach for a Xanax. Social Anxiety? Try alcohol. Angry? Marijuana will calm you down.

His answer to this? Exercise, meditation, self-expression (through art, music and writing) and connection to nature. He warned that when humans don’t “power down,” we crash like the computers we so heavily rely on. He also quoted the wisdom of Buddhism. “Want to be miserable? Think of yourself. Want to be happy? Think of others.” Hmm ... sounds an awful lot like Christianity!

Participants were then invited to select two workshops to attend out of four choices. I opted for a session about the Parent Leadership Initiative, which is a local organization that gives people the skills, knowledge and confidence to be advocates for their children and to see solutions to family, school and neighborhood concerns.

A very thought provoking question was, “What is your earliest memory of defending someone else”? My partner, an elderly rector from Brooklyn, was a bit surprised by my response, but it was the first thing that popped into my head and it’s a “doozy.” I was in second grade when I saw the class bully, “Alfred,” teasing one of his victims relentlessly. I was outraged and proceded to handle the situation by giving Alfred the beating he deserved. Problem solved. I then had to explain to the shocked rector that not only did I grow up with two older brothers, but there was very little supervision at recess in the ’70s. To add a bit of humor to the situation, I said, “Don’t let the pearl fool you ... I’m fierce!" The more important lesson here was that it’s important to have empathy and defend those that might need it.

For my second session, I opted to learn about issues facing LGBTQ youth and their families and learned a whole new litany of vocabulary. While most of us are probably “cisgender” meaning that we “identify with the same gender that we were assigned at birth,” there are many youth who struggle mightily when they don’t feel that what society has deemed as “normal” fits their experience. This results in a painful rise in drug use, isolation, depression, homelessness and suicide. In order to be sensitive to others and not make assumptions upon meeting new people, we were instructed to introduce ourselves using our name and then our PGPs, or personal gender pronouns. In my case, I said, “My name is Karen and I go by she and her.”

While some of this was quite confusing, it was a real eye-opener (even for a Confirmation teacher who has heard some truly wild stories from the middle school and high school kids in class over the last three years!). As a church, it is important to be educated about these issues, since they will surely face us soon. It was also suggested that we look at church documents and make sure that we are being sensitive to folks in this community. In fact, when my daughter Grace was filling out the application to attend the EYE (Episcopal Youth Event), she was given four options for her gender: male, female, transgender and “non-binary.” I needed to look that last one up and it turns out that someone who identifies as non-binary might identify with both genders, no gender, be somewhere between genders (agender) or have a gender which varies over time (gender fluid).

I could fill the pages of the Message with more fascinating things that I learned, but instead, I will just say that this was one of the best programs that I have ever attended.  Not only was it well organized, but more importantly, it touched on real issues and real solutions.

I strongly recommend giving your financial support to Episcopal Ministries as they embark on their annual campaign so that they may continue to provide valuable resources to parishes in the form of grant money and more events like the Youth and Family Support Summit.

~ Karen Hoenscheid