One of these years, I will be that senior deputy who has attended and participated in 14-or-so General Conventions of the Episcopal Church, which might come at an early age for me, since I attended my first General Convention soon after I turned 13-years-old. This was the 76th General Convention in Anaheim, California, in 2009. Three years later, at the 77th General Convention, in Indianapolis, I was proud to be one of the 18 members of the General Convention Official Youth Presence (GCOYP). It was this experience that inspired me to run for lay deputy for the 78th General Convention in my home diocese, the Diocese of Arizona.
I am blessed to have been elected to be a part of an incredibly diverse delegation; I believe one of the most diverse in the church. I am also one of two young people on the deputation, both of us lay, and both of us under the age of 30, and both of us identifying as Latino/a.
I have a few decades still before I become a senior deputy. For now, I am a young person of the Episcopal Church, a cradle-Episcopalian who loves bragging that her church is the liberal democratic kind. I brag that my church is the kind to let me believe that science and religion can and should be companions, that I am equal as a woman, that I should voice my beliefs about what is just, that God can be referred to as “She,” that the LGBTQ community is welcome, that undocumented immigrants and refugees are welcome, and that my voice will be considered even as a young person. I witnessed the manifestation of all these beliefs at the General Conventions I attended through resolutions that allowed the church to declare that this is what we believed. I know that I am equal as a woman because the presiding bishop is a woman that I hold as a role model. I know that my voice as a young person is heard because I was allowed to stand on the floor and voice my opinion in front of all the elected deputies.
As a young person of the Episcopal Church, I am in love with the concept of an all-inclusive church. My personal hope for the church is that it will continue in the direction it is currently set on: to be that radically inclusive church. My hope is that young people of the church, myself included—whether they are involved as deputies, in the GCOYP, as volunteers, or at their home parishes and dioceses—be seen not as inexperienced, but rather as bringing a new energy to the church. We young people are seen as idealists, but we come with new intentions and ideas, and through the church we can start changing the world. We might be inexperienced, but it is our very inexperience that brings a new perspective. New eyes are always needed to be able to see a different picture and a new method.
My hope is that older Episcopalians see themselves as mentors to the younger generation, so that we might learn from earlier accomplishments and mistakes; we advance by ensuring that history does not repeat itself. My main concern is that the young people of the church will not be taken seriously. Seeing people without prejudice and taking them seriously are the first steps to being inclusive. Most of us are shy because we do not want to be dismissed. Encourage us to speak up so that you may listen. Seeing us as inexperienced children alienates us, and we turn away from a church that refuses to listen to us.
Ultimately, listen to what we have to say, listen to our hopes, listen to our concerns, because our hopes and concerns are the heart of our passion for the church and the society we can help improve through the work of the church.
Ariana Gonzalez-Bonillas is a rising sophomore at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she is considering double majoring in sociology and physics, and tries to make it to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline on Sundays. While home in Arizona, she attends St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Chandler She has written as a columnist for the Episcopal Journal.