Photo above: Earlier this month, members of Grace Episcopal Church, Utica and Church of the Saviour, Syracuse attended the National Karen Episcopal Youth Day hosted by All Saints’ parish in Smyrna, Tennesee.
by Estella Bryans, member of Grace Episcopal Church in Utica
The Diocese of Central New York is blessed to have many New Americans worshiping at various parishes, especially in Syracuse and Utica. One group of New Americans in Central New York are Karen refugees who were resettled in the United States after spending many years in refugee camps in Thailand. These New Americans have been welcomed and have found their spiritual homes in the Episcopal Church. Having been raised in the Anglican tradition, the Episcopal Church has provided an oasis of familiarity for the Karen as they move through the resettlement process.
On July 4-5, 2019, approximately 30 people from the Diocese of Central New York participated in the second annual National Karen Episcopal Youth Day. This year the host parish was All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee. Karen youth and families from Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, Texas, and Canada experienced an action-packed 48 hours together that included a wedding, many Bible talks and lessons, amazing home-made Karen food, prayer and worship, contests, sports, and a concert.
Most of the participants from New York attend Grace Church in Utica and Church of the Saviour in Syracuse. Grace Church parishioners all agreed that they saw God throughout the event in the people that were surrounding them. “It was really great to see Karen people from all over the United States,” said Edwin Way, a catechist for the Karen community at Grace Church.
When reflecting on the highlights of the event, youth participants emphasized the food, the community, and Christian formation activities. Abraham W. (of Grace Church, Utica) stressed the importance of Karen youth gathering together to celebrate their culture; while fellow parishioner Wah Dit P. was impressed by a lesson about the difference between being Karen in America and being a Karen-American. Her favorite part of the event, however, was the home-cooked Karen food. Likewise, Grace W. of Utica was impressed by the Karen ice cream treat served on Friday afternoon, and also enjoyed learning about the Bible verse that was featured on the t-shirts: “Whatever you do, do it unto God, not unto man (Colossians 3:23).” The youngest participant from Grace, Blessing M., enjoyed playing soccer with the older kids, and said he had a great time learning more about the Bible.
Adult participants were especially attentive to the lessons presented by the Rt. Rev. John Wilme, retired bishop of Toungoo Myanmar, his wife, Elizabeth Wilme, the Rev. Fred Vergara, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for Asiamerica Ministries, and the Rev. Robert Rhea, vicar of the host congregation, All Saints’ Episcopal Church. Said participant Day Moo: “Bishop Wilme reminded me of how important it is to give of our gifts to the Lord, and reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses, Matthew 5:16: ‘In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’” Hser Christ Moo of Utica said that the testimonials presented on Saturday evening have stayed in her heart.
The music was another highlight of the program, enjoyed by all. The musicians in the stage band that accompanied the singing were all from our diocese! They did a fantastic job sharing their musical talent.
Next year, the third annual National Karen Episcopal Youth Day will be held in Utica, New York on July 3rd and 4th.