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Trees of Life

One of the singular privileges and joys of being the Bishop of Ohio occurs once every three years when I attend the triennial Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) with high school students from the Diocese of Ohio. Last month, twenty-three young Episcopalians and six adult companions from across our diocese traveled to Oklahoma City to join some 1400 of their peers in an inspiring and moving four days of learning, sharing, and worship. It is beyond me why every bishop of the church does not attend.

Our own EYE delegation included participants from eleven congregations, as well as two young people from each of our companion dioceses, the Diocese of Belize and the Diocese of Tanga in Tanzania. I was told that this was the first time any diocese of The Episcopal Church had brought participants from a companion diocese in the Anglican Communion. As usual, the delegation from the Diocese of Ohio was one of the largest attending, and that was not all. Four members of the 2017 EYE staff were our seminarians Chris Decatur, Anna Risch, and Noah Sutter, and transitional deacon Greg Stark. And, of course, we were very proud to be there with President of the House of Deputies Gay Jennings and her Executive Assistant Betsey Bell.

Together we were 36 strong, reflecting, after two centuries, the continuing vitality of leadership that has always defined the Diocese of Ohio. Everyone participated in workshops, presentations, and inspired worship with Presiding Bishop Curry. President Jennings and I reprised from the last EYE our presentation on the polity and structure of The Episcopal Church. And we explored Oklahoma's rich history and culture, culminating in a candlelight service at the Oklahoma City National Monument and Museum on the site of the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building. Everywhere we went, and in everything we did, our diocese's representatives were thoughtful, respectful, outgoing, and energetically involved, engaging others with an infectious enthusiasm and a perceptible spiritual maturity.

On the highest point of land at the National Monument, overlooking the profoundly moving memorial to the 168 innocents who died in the bombing, stands a 90 year old American elm tree that was all but destroyed by the bomb blast 22 years ago. Expected not to live as a result of the systemic shock and physical damage it incurred, the "Survivor Tree" nonetheless put forth buds that spring, and has regained its strength and vitality over these two decades. It stands today in silent denial of violence, a living icon of peace. Every year, seeds are taken from the Survivor Tree, germinated and nurtured, and the saplings are planted in various places around the world.

Following the vigil and Compline service at the memorial, I sought out the Executive Director of the Monument and Museum, Ms. Kari Watkins, to thank her for the warm hospitality and remarkable experience. Unbeknownst to me, the Bishop of Oklahoma had described to her the mission and establishment of Bellwether Farm, so when I asked if it might be possible for us to get a cutting from the Survivor Tree, she told me that we would be receiving one next April. My hope is that its presence at Bellwether will provide a vehicle by which our young people can teach and learn about non-violence and peace, a living expression of the triumph of life over death that is at the heart of our faith.

The young people of our diocese are a constant inspiration to me, and to be with a group of them for an experience like EYE is a gift beyond measure. Their companionship is a comfort and encouragement, and their unselfconscious faithfulness challenges me to be more unabashedly expressive about my own. They are a living expression of what the next century of life as the Diocese of Ohio can be. I will delight in introducing as many of them as possible to the Presiding Bishop at the dedication of Bellwether Farm on the Sunday of Convention weekend, November 10-12, when he meets with them before the Eucharist.

Our diocesan delegation to the 2017 EYE and their companions from Belize and Tanga were able to experience and participate in the events of the wider church largely because of the generosity of those who participate in the Bishop's Annual Appeal. The Appeal provides resources with which we can continue to engage our youth and young adults in the extra-parochial life of the church. At the 2015 General Convention, the Diocese of Ohio had the largest number of participants in the Young Adult Festival, again made possible by the Bishop's Annual Appeal. Similar examples of how the Appeal builds the church through support of youth and young adults are numerous.

As we approach the culmination of our Bicentennial, if you are wondering what kind of seed you might plant that will take root and provide new growth for the church in the century that awaits us, please consider the Bishop's Annual Appeal. It can help plant trees of life in whose shade you and I may not live to luxuriate, but whose branches will support the Christian faith and service of generations to come.

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