Finding Jesus at the Provincial Youth Gathering
By Steven Tighe and Tessa Turner.
The Provincial Youth Gathering (PYG) is an incredible event and an amazing opportunity for young people and those that work with them. It’s an “Acts 2” time when the Anglican Church comes together to do the things that Jesus’ followers have done for 2,000 years: meet together listen to the Apostles teach, celebrate the Eucharist together, praise and worship God and we expect that God will do wonders and miraculous signs among us. That’s been the experience of previous Gatherings, like the miraculous thing that God did in the life of Tessa Turner, one of the participants in the current Agape Year class, at the PYG in 2017.
Tessa, tell us a little about your story
I grew up in a super Christian house in Attleboro, Massachusetts. My mom, my grandpa and my uncle are all priests. Even with that background, in high school I was drifting away from my faith. More and more I was finding my identity in my school friends. I went ahead and got confirmed by my Bishop, Bill Murdoch, when I was 16 but mostly because my mother wanted me to. After that everything went downhill.
What was going on in your life before the summer of 2017?
In my drama group at school I started experimenting, first with boys and then with girls and then I decided I was bisexual. I pretty much completely walk away from my faith. I knew it was wrong but I didn’t know how to be right again. I was lying to my mom, and she knew there was something wrong. So the summer before my senior year she decided I was going to go to the Provincial Youth Gathering in Wheaton. I was so mad, but she was like “No, it’s gonna happen.”
What happened at the Youth Gathering?
I remember we got there on Tuesday night and at the opening Eucharist, I was miserable. On Wednesday night we played a game called Aliens and it was really fun and that made me willing to pay attention to the talks and the worship on Thursday. I loved that they led worship in different languages. One of the songs they played that morning was Oceans. I started crying in the middle of it. I kept asking God why I was there, and in the middle of my crying this guy from my group sort of awkwardly put his arm on my shoulders to comfort me. And I had this thought that here is this stranger comforting me better than my friends at home ever had.
That night there was a prayer and healing service, and Ben Kwaashi, the Archbishop of Nigeria started talking and I was really struggling. Again, I just started sobbing. And I told God, I need to really tell you everything that I’ve done and I need to tell you how sorry I am and I need to know if you can ever forgive me. And it was like a weight lifted off. I just got rid of my need to define myself by my friends and by my sexuality or by what I could give people, and it was like chains were falling off of me. I needed Jesus and without Jesus, trying to love my school friends was dragging me down.
I remember that night, it was really powerful. After that did your group do the mission trip?
Yes. I was super happy and felt so free and light, and I’m so glad I did the mission trip because it cemented everything that I was feeling. It was time to be with God and new friends. I think that if I had gone straight home after the conference, what God did wouldn’t have had a chance to stick.
The problem with defining yourself by your friends or your sexuality is that it’s very self-centered. It just feels so sad to try to define yourself that way, because there’s no purpose. And so the mission trip brought me out of myself. I remember it was so different from the last few years because my friends at home couldn’t care for me because they were focused on themselves. They weren’t bad, they just didn’t know how to love each other. These people that I’d known for a week wanted to care for me more than my friends did.
The mission trip was great. We spent hours putting stickers on seltzer water at the Chicago food bank. We served people at a soup kitchen. But my favorite was working at the daycare of a Chinese immigrant church VBS. None of the kids spoke English. I remember holding a little girl who was crying and then a bigger boy and they both went to sleep on me. The whole thing was life-changing. Honestly, the breakthrough at PYG really hurt. But after that, God was so gentle with me. He found me new friends. He gave me church and reconnected me with my family in a way that let me be open with them, and he gave me a plan for the future.
A plan? What do you mean?
At PYG I found out about Agape Year, the Anglican gap year program, and I felt like God was pushing me to apply. It’s amazing. We just got back from Thailand, and here I am going to churches all over the country and sharing the story of all the things He’s done for me. I’m hoping to go back to PYG this June as a leader.
Tessa’s story is only one of the mighty things that God did when we were together, and we’re looking forward to see what He’s going to do at this year’s Provincial Youth Gathering! The theme this year is about making disciples, and it promises to be just as incredible and just as life-changing as the PYG in 2017. We have an amazing line up of speakers, (including Archbishop Foley Beach and Nigerian Archbishop Ben Kwashi), Eucharist from the new ACNA Prayer Book, incredible worship by United Adoration, a night of worship and prayer led by the Rev. Keith Hartsell and Equipped to Heal, and another planned game of Aliens!
Discipleship isn’t just about teaching, it’s about doing. So we’re going to follow the three day conference with four days of serving the community of Dallas. We’ll be serving at Bonton Farms, Dallas’ first urban farm, provide healthy food, jobs and new hope for a South Dallas community ravaged by generational poverty, crime, and identified by the USDA as a food desert. We will be moving mulch, mucking stalls, painting, milking goats, collecting eggs and much more. It’s an amazing place, expect to be changed! We’ll be working with Project Transformation with their one-to-one reading programs with at-risk young people. We’ll be helping The Nations Outreach share the good news of Jesus Christ with the children of DFW area refugees. We’ll be working with Youth With a Mission at YWAM Dallas as they serve among the poor, forgotten, outcast and unreached of Dallas by helping families with neighborhood clean-up, painting and home repair.
Tessa, any last words?
The Provincial Youth Gathering is life-changing. And it was so fun to meet other Anglicans. It’s hard to find a place where 300 people you just met want to be your friends. I learned that the Church is more than a community, it’s God’s family that you’re invited into.
For more information about the Provincial Youth Gathering go to younganglicans.com/pyg2019/. For information about Agape Year go to agapeyear.org.