On May 22, 2022, young people from across the diocese gathered at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Buckhead for the annual Graduation Celebration, a worship service that has taken place for the last six years.
Arabella Brown, a youth from St. James Marietta, preached a message of God’s love, belonging, and the road ahead as she and her peers graduate and head off in new life directions.
The love of God has been expressed in so many ways in our diocese, and that same love goes with you in your next chapter. Even though we may not see each other as often, we are still together in the community of God.
Read the Message:
Hi! I’m sure a lot of you know me, but for those of you who don’t, my name is Arabella Brown, and I attend St. James in Marietta. I’ve been involved with this diocese since I attended Happening 71 in my freshman year. I’ve been involved with many diocesan activities over the years, as have all of our wonderful seniors.
I know that right now, we’re all either about to graduate or, if you’re lucky, you’ve already graduated. But regardless, we’re all at pretty much the same place right now. We’re leaving high school, and soon we’ll be moving on to our new path, whether that’s college or something else. And trust me, I know that it’s scary. If there’s one thing I’ve been told about college, it’s that you will have no idea what you’re in for, like, NO idea. Everything we have grown used to in our lives and in high school is changing, and we really don’t know what our lives are going to be like in a couple of months. And I know that that can be incredibly stressful. But if there is one constant thing that we can count on in our lives, it’s God. Friends will change, your daily routine will be different, and your experiences and attitudes will change, but God is not going to change. Your relationship with Him may change- you may struggle with your faith or maybe it will become even stronger, maybe both, maybe neither- but regardless, God will be there, whether or not you can see Him. God will provide you with the tools you need in your life even when those tools seem to be nowhere in sight, and he will continue to walk with us as He does now.
The changing of friendships and habits and routines we’re accustomed to is going to be hard, it’s going to be weird, and it’s going to be uncomfortable. Moving on from this diocese and your church family is going to be hard. The love of God that we’ve felt in this diocese is something that doesn’t end once you go to a new place. Our community is a place that knows no physical bounds and will never let you slip away just because you may be farther away and older than you used to be. The love of God has been expressed in so many ways in our diocese, and that same love goes with you in your next chapter. Even though we may not see each other as often, we are still together in the community of God.
And if you’re wondering why I am so confident in our ability to stay connected through anything, it’s because we have already shown that we can. We’ve managed to stay connected through an entire global pandemic. We’ve had to rebuild and regrow; we’ve had to change some things and make adjustments to be able to gather safely. But we’ve been able to do it, and we’ve done it pretty well, if I do say so myself. A lot of our themes this year for retreats have been a great reflection of this: Pursuit of Happiness, Glorious Day, Forward Together- they all reflect the strength of this diocese in moving forward through the hard times. I personally struggled to feel as connected to God when I wasn’t able to go to church or Happening or anything. Being able to start doing those things again was an important reminder of how we need our community. Being able to gather with everyone again has been a major spiritual healer for me, and I’m sure for all of you too.
None of us really know the next step we’re going to take, even if we think we do. We can plan all we want, we can think about every possible little detail, but at the end of the day, that’s in God’s hands. It’s really easy to get swept up in the “What’s gonna happen” of the future. We tend to try and plan out our future as much as we can. And even though we know God is with us, we are still going to inevitably over plan things. And there are a lot of factors in our lives that we can over plan for. And there’s nothing wrong with trying to plan for our future, but it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, your future is in God’s hands. As it was said in the Gospel, “ And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.” This doesn’t mean that you just stop planning altogether and give zero thought to your future. Please don’t do that. What this means is that you can plan and you can pray.
And I’m sure you all are very aware that your plans and God’s plans don’t always align. Maybe you’re not going to the school you wanted to, maybe you’re going to a place where you don’t know anyone. And you might be upset about that, you might wonder why God wouldn’t help you out, why He didn’t let you have the perfect future you had envisioned and planned on. Trust me, I know what it’s like to want something that’s different from what God has planned. And I know this is pretty much the cheesiest thing I could say, but God’s got a plan for you. He knows what He’s doing, He is fully aware of the challenges He’s giving you, and He’s giving them to you because He knows you’ll be able to handle them. And it’s God’s plan. So it’s important to let Him focus on some of that planning for right now. Don’t let the current moment get pushed aside by your worrying and planning for the future. Right now, we should be celebrating and appreciating what we have, and being proud of our accomplishments over these last 4 years.
Your fear and anxiety about the future is valid. We are all feeling versions of it, it’s not something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. But it’s important to not let that anxiety overwhelm you and take away from what’s happening right now. This fear we have now isn’t going to matter in the future. Right now, it’s probably one of the biggest things in your life. When you start to over plan and overwork yourself, just zoom out for a moment and realize that it’s gonna be okay. In 10 years, you’re not even gonna remember how you felt about starting college, you’ll just be worried about taxes. So don’t worry. Because no matter what’s in front of you, whether it’s college or taxes or going gray; God’s already given us our mission: to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with him.
One thing we can feel confident in is that we can have hope for our future. Regardless of what happens, God has given us a path to follow. It will be hard at times and emotional at other times, but it’s going to be filled with so many good things and blessings. Over the last 4 years, we’ve been internalizing experiences, love, and our communities, and now it’s time for us to put those experiences to work in the world. Every person in this diocese is a reflection of God’s love and we’ve been reflecting that love back into the world for years, and as we go to college, we’ll find new ways to reflect that love.
Maintaining faith during college is definitely going to be hard for many of us. You’re going to have to push yourself to go to church; there’s no youth group and no parents there to wake you up and tell you to get dressed. It can be hard to feel connected to God in times like these. But the good news is, when you inevitably miss church because you have to study for a big test or you overslept from pulling an all-nighter studying, God is still with you. And maybe you’ll keep struggling to make it to church. The good news is, with God you basically have unlimited tries because He just wants you to get there. Whether you never mess up or finally succeed after months of it not working out, God is going to be proud of you, and he’s gonna love you for it. It can be a struggle to remember that, but having a community of people who love God and share your faith is the best reminder.
One Bible story that I think strongly reflects God’s support through our fear is the story of Gideon. Israel had recently secured a victory over Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army. The Israelites easily praised God since they were victorious. As the thrill of their victory wears off, they begin to start worshiping idols and are defeated by the Midianites. The Israelites became so poor that they couldn’t even afford to give the lowest level of temple offering to God. Gideon was spoken to by an angel while harvesting wheat and hiding from the Midianites. An angel came to Gideon and told him that God was sending him to save Israel from the hand of Midian. Gideon doubted his ability to do so. But he remained strong with the knowledge that God would be with him. As Gideon led the Israelites against Midian, he often struggled with maintaining his faith in their success. But he kept trusting God, and God gave him the courage to lead the Israelites out of oppression. Gideon was scared, and he really didn’t think he would be able to do it, but he trusted in God and God led him to victory. Our weaknesses don’t matter when we have God by our side. Even when things are scary or seem hopeless, God will lead you forward and through it. He will pull you out the other end, and he’ll make sure you survive.
Hopefully, we won’t have to face any Midianites anytime soon, but we’ll face other challenges. Some of these will be internal- like how we can grow in our faith. Others will be external- how can we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God wherever we are? And how can we do that in a way that shows the people around us that they’re loved unconditionally by God? These challenges will be both internal and external, and they’re going to take all different shapes. Some will be simple solutions and some will take a lot longer to fix. But we can rest assured knowing that God isn’t going to leave us in the claws of these struggles. He will pull us through to better things, and he will help us grow through our experiences. The future won’t be easy or simple, but like Gideon, we have our mission. All it takes now is a little trust in God to do it. Thank you!