About sixty junior and senior high school students experienced something last weekend that many said they had never been able to do before.

They got to know others their own age from across the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The group, along with about twenty parish youth ministers, clergy, and other adult helpers, came together August 22nd for the first event to be sponsored by the diocese’s new Pittsburgh Youth Initiative.

For the first hour, the kids stood together in an open field in North Park, playing those games meant to be “ice breakers.” Led by Calvary Camp’s P.J. Williamson and Neil Johnston, they formed groups named for strange-sounding birds, concocted even stranger-sounding bird calls, tossed balls while calling names, and lined up in ever-changing queues according to preferences: Pepsi versus Coke, hamburgers versus hot dogs, rational or emotional, left handed or right handed, Facebook or Twitter.

It worked.

More than an hour later, and well into a two-mile walk through the wooded park trials, small clusters of kids from different parishes were getting better acquainted, “Your name’s Josh, right?”

The hike, led by Bishop Johnson, was the signature event of the day. At age 74, he was by far the oldest in the group. But that did not stop him from leading the pack at a brisk pace.

“I heard some of the kids complaining,” he joked. Indeed, one teenage seemed to puff, “Is this all uphill?” while another lamented, “Why did I wear sandals today?” Most, however, were suitably attired and enjoying themselves and the sights. At least one deer ran by during the walk, and a hawk perched just overhead when all sat down to eat.

At the cookout, those hamburger or hot dog preferences from earlier in the day didn’t quite matter as much.

“May I have one of each?” more than one hungry teenager asked, before doing justice to a plateful of goodies. The food was donated by Pamela’s Diners.

So they walked and talked and ate together, mixing St. Peter’s with St. Paul’s, Christ Church Indiana with Christ Church North Hills, All Souls, Calvary, Nativity, and Saints Andrew, Stephen and Thomas.

The Rev. Kris Opat announced that the Youth Initiative is organizing two upcoming events: sending a delegation to the National Acolyte Festival at the National Cathedral over the weekend of October 9-11, and a lock-in at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside the night of November 20.

This weekend’s theme, “Go Take a Hike,” carried into the concluding Eucharist. With music led by a youth band from St. Peter’s, Brentwood, the service was held outdoors under the pines alongside North Park’s Wildwood Pavilion.

Perhaps the setting caused Archdeacon Jean Chess to misspeak the words from Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus commissions the Seventy. “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of woods,” she read, before quickly correcting with a smile “into the midst of wolves.”

“How appropriate” a mistake, Bishop Johnson noted in his homily, telling the group how blessed they were to be together with such beautiful surroundings and perfect weather. He went on to draw parallels between the lesson of the Gospel and the day’s hike – symbolic of a journey of faith.

“Jesus says, ‘Go together,’” the Bishop preached. “He also tells us to travel light and that we should be ready to go wherever God sends us.”

Then, borrowing from a saying often used by distance runners, “Feet, don’t fail me now,” the Bishop urged the youth to pray, “Faith, don’t fail me now.”

“Be faithful,” he told them.

Additional photographs courtesy Lisa Brown of St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon.



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