Following is one of the pieces of legislation authored by members of the General Convention Official Youth Presence. LeeAnne Watkins is a priest and deputy from the Diocese of Minnesota who agreed to propose the legislation for the GCOYP.
There are two typical arguments against empowering youth with voice and vote on vestries and bishop’s committees; 1) they won’t understand the discussion and will be bored and 2) anyone less than 18 is too young to conduct legal business in our state.
As to the first, many adult members of congregational leadership entities are often bored or don’t understand the complexities of some of the topics taken up at a vestry/bishop’s committee meeting. Those of us who have been in ministry with congregations who have welcomed 16-18 year-olds in elected leadership positions have supported their participation by pairing them with a vestry/bishop’s committee mentor to meet with them for preparation and follow-up, as well as helping them to engage and be recognized at meetings.
As to the legalities mentioned in the second excuse, many chancellors have advised us that taking care to limit a minor’s ability to vote upon actions of legal matters generally takes care of the age factor. Please confer with your own chancellor for advice specific to your state.
The good news is, this legislation is important in the life of our church as we continue to work toward leadership development for ministry. It is relatively simple to amend by-laws to include a briefer term for a high school aged person to serve. The Constitutions and Canons of the Episcopal Church do recognize communicants as adults at age 16 with regard to voice and vote at annual meetings. I hope that in your diocese you can encourage, promote, and support more youth leadership at the congregational level. I welcome your questions and suggestions.You have my faithful prayers.
* FINAL VERSION – Concurred
Title: Youth Seat, Voice and Vote on Vestry
Committee: 14 – Ministry
House of Initial Action: Bishops
Proposer: The Rev. LeeAnne Watkins
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That each congregation create at least one youth seat on their Vestry or Bishop’s Committee. This seat(s) would include voice and vote for a one year term for a youth between the ages of sixteen and eighteen.
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That this 76th General Convention encourage congregations to consider including on their vestries or bishop’s committees a seat for youth ages sixteen to eighteen with voice, and with vote except as prohibited by civil law.
This resolution encourages young people to more fully participate in the leadership of the Church and take on the responsibility that that entails. Young people given this opportunity have found that their participation has been a transformative experience and has been a meaningful opportunity to have their voices heard. This will give youth a sense of ownership in the Church and further encourages them to engage in Church leadership in the future. Taking youth leadership seriously must be a priority to maintain and grow the Church. It is vital for each congregation to nurture and support young people in their leadership activities in the Church.