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aprilMay my thoughts, words, and deeds be favorable in your sight, our heavenly father, Amen.

Good morning. I’m April Huckleberry.  Some of you may know me. For those of you who don’t, I am 18 years old and have been a part of St. Philip’s for 13 years. I am about to graduate from Catalina Foothills High School, and will be attending NAU in the fall. When I was asked to write a sermon, I immediately knew what it would be about. One of the greatest assets at St. Philip’s is the youth program, and one of the greatest parts of the youth program is the J2A pilgrimage. So I chose to focus on that.

J2A is the youth group for 15 and 16 year olds with a curriculum that specifically focuses on developing our faith while navigating the challenges of the teen years and becoming an adult. The J2A pilgrimage is a two week journey to sites in France and England that have played….and continue to play an important role in Christianity. Youth are accompanied by clergy and adult volunteers. As you can imagine, sending kids to Europe for 2 weeks is pretty pricy, so we spent lots of time meeting and fundraising for our efforts. We held Lenten suppers, bake sales, barbecues, garage sales, you name it. We have also been fortunate enough to receive a portion of our funds from St. Philip’s which helps make it all possible. I want to thank you and St. Philip’s for that support because the trip was life-changing.

My J2A Pilgrimage took place during the summer of 2012, when many in the media reported stories of this being the year that the world was “supposed to end”. Ironically, my spiritual world was only just beginning.

A memory that will never leave me was our first meal in Taizé. Taizé is a an ecumenical  monastery in France where young Christians from around the world come to meet and worship together.

During World War II, Taizé served as a refuge for people fleeing the horror of the war. Today, it is a universal religious community hosted by a group of Christian monks. People gather here from different parts of the world to tell their stories, worship, and encounter with the living God.

The accommodations are simple.  Our first morning, we queued up for the breakfast line and found ourselves amongst Italians, Czechs, Germans — the only Americans were those in my youth group. The layering of languages was a beautiful cacophony that my ears will never forget. When someone handed me a tray, it was promptly filled with a bread roll, two sticks of dark chocolate and a bowl of hot chocolate. Needless to say, I was illuminated at the thought of chocolate for breakfast. We sat down on log benches with several Germans and Italians to eat. They spoke quickly and fluidly, as I hopelessly tried to listen for cognates. Luckily, most of the people I met, spoke small amounts of English, but there was still a language barrier to overcome during the week of our stay.

Something I realized in the course of the conversation was that we came from such different cultures, yet we found a common ground. We were on a journey to find God and better understand our role as young Christians in a complex world. There was the presence of overwhelming acceptance that I would give anything to relive.

In many ways, I feel this same sense of overwhelming acceptance at St. Phillp’s. I have friends of all ages, and close relationships with some of the rectors and deacons.

We are all people with hopes, fears, doubts, and needs, and we are all learning, no matter our age, every day what it means to be Christian. In pursuing my own path of understanding the world and my Christian role within it, I am going on another journey. This summer, I have been given the opportunity to live in Paraguay for 7 weeks through a national program known as AMIGOS de las Americas. The goal of AMIGOS is simple: empower youth to be catalysts for social change and strengthen communities outside our own.

I will be teamed up with another person from the United States and will live with a host family. Paraguay is one of the poorer countries in South America. A country that lost many of its people, first to disease with the arrival of Europeans, and later to violence and starvation during the War of the Triple Alliance in the 1800s. My objective in Paraguay will be to work with local youth in the village where I will be assigned, initiating environmental and community health initiatives that range from constructing latrines to teaching the value of hand washing. My role will be a mixture of camp counselor, mentor, organizer, motivator, facilitator, role model, student and friend to the youth of my village.

This opportunity to serve others will undoubtedly provide me new perspectives, and I hope to spread the love that I felt in Taizé and here at St. Philip’s. In my opinion, living life to the fullest is a process of channeling your passion and energy into things that better our existence, create understanding, and spread love.

In Matthew 20:28, Jesus came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In John 13:15, he says “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you”

In Paraguay I will be living, working and serving people, many of whom lack basic amenities. I will help them build a more healthy and sustainable community. This is an opportunity for me to “walk the talk” of being a Christian, of putting into action many of the things I have learned here at St. Philip’s.

I’m lucky to have this opportunity to serve others. I am lucky to be a part of the all-accepting and all-loving community that is my church, and I want to thank St. Philip’s for fostering such spiritual growth. And I thank the Lord for these blessings. Amen.

—April Huckleberry
Presented as the sermon on
Children and Youth Recognition Sunday, 18 May 2014

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