Seventeen-year old Andrés Gonzalez-Bonillas is ready to preach

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Andrés Gonzalez-Bonillas is a rising high school senior from St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Chandler, in the Diocese of Arizona is the preacher today at the 10:30 Holy Eucharist.  

He sat down to talk about this experiences in the Episcopal Church and his outlook on creative expression with Rebecca Watts of Deputy News, and also gave her a preview of his sermon.

RW: How long have you been a part of the Episcopal Church?

AG-B: I got baptized when I was two months old. I’m a cradle Episcopalian, born in Arizona, baptized in Arizona. When I was little we moved around a little bit—San Diego, Boston—in all those places we attended, as a family, the Episcopal Church.

RW: What was your growing up in the Episcopal Church like? Describe what your day-to-day growing up in the church was like.

AG-B: We would go to church every Sunday. I participated heavily in youth ministry, children’s ministries. My parents were on multiple vestries. My mom worked for St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego as their children’s person. It was a very large part of the culture at home just because it was something constant that we always did every week, and that we have continued to do for as long as I can remember.

RW: Do you have any siblings involved in the Episcopal Church?

AG-B: I have an older sister, Ariana, who right now is the number one lay deputy for Arizona. She’s been to more conventions than I have, starting in 2009, so this is her fourth one. It’s my third convention.

RW: I saw that you had spoken at the 2017 Episcopal Youth Event in Oklahoma, so tell me about your involvement with EYE. It looks like you had been on the planning team.

AG-B: I’ve done one EYE as a youth. My sister was on the EYE planning team for the one in Philadelphia, so she convinced me to apply for planning team for 2017 EYE. I applied, I got it, I met some great people. I got to do a spoken word [piece] and [then] write it [Gonzalez-Bonillas’ spoken word piece from EYE, “Alabanza,” is featured on the EpiscoYouth channel on YouTube]. I got to write the Eucharistic Prayer that we used at the closing of EYE. It was just a great opportunity for me to meet people and to get a grip on what it is to be a participant at the church-wide level. …

RW: Tell me more about that artistic side of your life.

AG-B: It really started in seventh grade because before then I hated writing. I just hated it. It was just something that I was okay at that I just didn’t have any passion for. But it was my seventh grade English teacher that got me to be passionate about it because she asked questions that were open-ended, that we could write a lot about and that we could make our own. So then in eighth grade, my English teacher introduced me to slam poetry. Both those things together launched me, and since then I’ve loved writing. I’ve loved being able to look at my surroundings and put it on paper, or type it, and make something out of it that wasn’t there before—to make what I see around me more connected to who I am and to how I view everything.

RW: How do you see your writing, your spoken word, as intersecting with your faith?

AG-B: I believe my spoken word was definitely a way for me to both express my faith and also to explore it. I like to focus more on spirituality rather than on faith because I feel like spirituality is more closely related to how I find things to inspire me to write. When I’m writing I look around me at what inspires me, what makes me want to write. On the spiritual side, I look around and I try to center myself and try to be in touch with what is around me. I try to really get to know the area that I am occupying, the area I am speaking in.

RW: How do you think you might use writing and these gifts of observation and spirituality, how do you see that moving forward as you continue as a Christian and in the church? How do you see writing as continuing to be a part of how you are involved in the church?

AG-B: I think maybe continuing spoken word or continuing poetry because those are things I am incredibly passionate about, and those are things I think I am pretty good at. Like with the racial reconciliation conversation yesterday, there was the poet there. Maybe doing something like that on an issue that I’m really passionate about and being able to express myself in a way that I am incredibly passionate about.

RW: Tell me more about being asked to preach here at General Convention. How did that all come together?

AG-B: [Canon to the Presiding Bishop] Michael Hunn called me and I missed the call. He left me a voice mail, and I didn’t check my voice mail. Then he texted me and then I checked the voice mail and called him back. He said, “Andrés, I’m Michael Hunn from the PB’s office, and we’d like to have you preach at General Convention.” He asked on behalf of the presiding bishop.  . . . Seeing my dad react to me getting this opportunity was really cool because I feel like this is something that he has really wanted for us, for me and my sister, to have our opportunities and to have these experiences that deepen our faith. …

RW: Can you give us a preview of your sermon?

AG-B: I’m going to tell three stories—well, more like two-and-a-half stories—about the love and affection that I’ve received and that I’ve been a part of in the Episcopal Church, and how that has shaped how I view the church and how I want to continue with my spirituality. They are very personal stories. I’m willing to be vulnerable in that sense and tell those stories and share them with the Episcopal Church, not just General Convention, but with the entire Episcopal Church.

RW: You’re going into your senior year of high school. What do you think is next for you after high school?

AG-B: Definitely college. I want to major in English with a concentration in creative writing, maybe Chicano literature. …

RW: Is there anything else that you would like people to know about you or your role here at Convention?

AG-B: I’m here as an intern, part of the team for Latino Ministries headed by Anthony Guillén [director of ethnic ministries]. We’ve been doing some great work with getting the news about the Convention to Latino Ministries and to the Latino community that is not here through our livestreams on the Latino/Hispanic Episcopalians Facebook page. I’m really excited to continue working with them. It’s been a great experience here so far.

Rebecca Watts is a senior MDiv student at the Seminary of the Southwest, and an alternate lay deputy and candidate for holy orders from the Diocese of Central Florida. Prior to seminary, she was associate professor of communication and media studies at Stetson University.