Unless noted, images come from the video made of EYE
by Megan King *
I am so grateful that Pastor Diane asked me to come and share my experience with EYE. I love sharing the story of my time there, but I don’t really get to tell it much. Besides telling my family and a few of my friends, you all will be the only ones to really hear about it. Which is a shame because it has become one of my favorite stories to tell. However, I was not really sure what I should include in it. If I told you everything that I did we would be here all day. So I went to my dad and asked, what do you think I should include in my speech. “Tell them what they want to hear.”. Okay, that’s good and all but I needed something a little more specific than that. After a walk or two I decided that the best way for you to get to know about my time at EYE is for me to tell you about the impact it had on me. I chose this because it is the most dramatic thing about my adventure.
But what is a story without a little background. EYE or the Episcopal Youth Event, is an International Convention that takes place every 3 years somewhere in the United States. Youth from all around the world including the United States gather to grow in faith, and in my case, grow a stronger connection to the church I was born into. EYE was held in Oklahoma this year, and the convention was held on the campus of The University of Central Oklahoma. 700 youth from many different dioceses including Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the Convocation of European Churches came along with 600 chaperones. I was honored to be one of those youth who attended. I along with 5 other youth and two Chaperones from around the Newark Diocese got the chance to experience what exactly EYE was.
To show how moved I was from this experience, I have to bring you back to the beginning. If I am going to be honest, initially I took this trip because I was trapped in the cycle of everyday life. I would get up early in the morning, go to school, come home do homework and go to bed. Then start the cycle again. And when this opportunity was bought to me in January, I only saw it as a way to shake up a routine in my life that I had become so impatient and so unhappy with. I did not see it as an opportunity to strengthen my faith or to become a big involvement into the church. I believed that I knew where God was in my life, and that I was aware of what the world looked like outside of the bubble of Harrington Park. Little did I know that I was in for the biggest shock of my life, I don’t think that I have ever been more wrong.
After months of preparation, EYE was finally here. My parents dropped me off at the Marriott Hotel at the Newark Airport, and at 3 am I woke up with the rest of the crew, and we headed to the air-port, and one cancellation, two connecting flights, and a little after 24 hours later, we would be in the Oklahoma City Airport. Now you would think that the airport would be deserted and quiet, that we would have been greeted by people who just wanted us to get the heck in the bus so that they could go home. I know that’s what I was expecting. NOPE. We were with 4 different dioceses who had arrived at the same time, we were greeted by staff who celebrated our arrival with dancing and hugging. They were so glad that we would be getting to experience EYE. As the five dioceses waited in the Lobby of the airport to board the bus, we stood there, and the dioceses of Arkansas were calling out the states that the other diocese came from, they would yell “ Hey Texas!” and then Texas would yell back “HEY ARKANSAS!” and so on. Then they yell “Hey Newark New Jersey!” (and let me remind you that my group had been traveling for the past 24 hours) we all look up from staring at the ground, and I yawn as I wave and Nico ( my cousin who came on the trip) gives a kind of grunt that I’m sure he meant to sound happy and cheerful, but came off as a dog growling. We totally were the grumpy bunch of Northerners in that room.
Already, even though I did not have the best reaction to it, I could tell that I was in a special place, but I still hadn’t gotten the reality check. The next morning, I woke up and got ready to go to the opening Eucharist. The Service was located in the Basketball Gym on the outskirts of the campus. I walked with my roommate Charlene who came with me to EYE. As we walked, there were crowds and crowds of people talking in groups and making their way towards the gym. People would come up to us an introduce themselves and say what diocese they were from. They came with different types of collectibles to trade with us. Every diocese had something different that represented where they came from. Nebraska had tiny packs of Kool-Aid to hand out, Hawaii had shell necklaces and palm tree key-chains which I made sure to stock up on. The Diocese of Newark handed out pins that were very popular with the other diocese.
That first morning while meeting people as we walked and handing out our pins, I really felt safe and confident that I could be myself there. The first Eucharist was like nothing that I have ever experienced. The energy in the room was overwhelmingly positive and loving. I don’t think I can describe the way that my perspective changed that day. As we stood there in the arena singing joyful music that had everyone clapping and moving the way that they felt expressed their happiness in the best way possible I became aware that it was God that had sent me here. That God was opening a door that I did not know was there. All my life I thought that Harrington Park, and the small community around me was the only safe place, that understood me. But God put this opportunity in front of me, God put me on those flights, and God put me in the back of that Arena to show just how much I was missing in the world. I have never felt so grateful for something like that in my entire life.
The rest of EYE was just up-hill from there. All day everyday people spent their time playing different types games and sports, singing at an open mic in the center of large courtyard where most of the activities were going on. The laid back atmosphere let me feel comfortable to walk up to a random volley ball game and join in. Now, before going I thought that it would be workshops all the time, and not a lot of time to hang out and meet people. I was very wrong with that too. In fact it was the complete opposite. Out of the 5 days of EYE, there were a total of 4 workshops which were known as a Praxis. They were each an hour long and you got to choose which ones you wanted to attend.
For my first Praxis I attended Woman in the United Nations, which a very great experience because it showed me how a young woman around my age can make a difference in the world. The next one that I attended was a non- violent peace talk, which was very interesting, which I could get into all day long, but a short summary is we talked about a philosopher’s definition of violence and how any situation that leaves a negative emotion is considered violent. We were handed little booklets afterwards which I have bought here if you would like to take a look at them. However, this praxis really helped me with how I talk to people and how I handle certain situations. The final Praxis that I attended was a very great speech by Michael Curry our Presiding Bishop. This was definitely my favorite Praxis because he is one of the best speakers that I have ever heard. He is so passionate about what he does and believes strongly in the message of the Episcopal Youth Event which is the path to peace.
On Tuesday night, during our night service in the gym, we had speakers come in who were in Oklahoma City during the Oklahoma City bombing. There was a first responder, a victim, and a family member of a victim. They all told their stories of what happened that day. They were preparing us for the next day when we went to visit the memorial. Their stories were incredible, the most powerful part was how obvious Gods influence on their stories were. No matter what connection to the bombings those people had, God was there with all of them. Helping the find victims and getting through the tough time.
The next day, we got to tour Oklahoma, which was a great experience overall because we got to do things that I had never done. We really stayed true to the peace aspect of EYE. We helped with lunches at a soup kitchen, we visited the memorial during the day and during the night. The time we visited during the day was very educational because we went inside the museum. The entire time I was shaking, the museum was moving yet very graphic. After a fun day of touring Oklahoma, the EYE held a carnival for us with lines and lines of food trucks and bouncy house with different performances from different bands and dancers. After the carnival we had a Peace walk all the way down to the memorial for a candle light vigil. As the sun went down we sang songs and prayed for peace for all over the world.
The whole time you could see, feel, and hear the love which just reassured me that God was with us throughout vigil. From this experience of EYE I learned that God is with us ALWAYS no matter what, that the Episcopal church is A LOT bigger than I thought, and if I had the chance to go to EYE again I would take it. I encourage ANYONE who is given the opportunity to go, to not hesitate or think that it might not be for you. Because the great thing about The Episcopal church, is that it is for EVERYONE.
- – Megan King, a life-long member of St. Andrew’s Church, is a Junior at Northern Valley HS in Old Tappan who will be graduating with the class of 2019