Summer is upon us which means, in part, that another class of college students has graduated and are wondering what it means to enter adulthood. Find a job? Move out of their parents’ house? Begin paying off student loans?
These are only some of the big questions, with many smaller choices and challenges along the way. The transition from school to occupation—or better yet vocation—requires discernment and continued formation as an adult, as well as support from a community.
Traditionally, these have been gifts of the church, yet fewer and fewer young adults are connecting with a community of faith. So how can The Episcopal Church accompany and engage young adults as they transition into adulthood?
One way is through Episcopal Service Corps (ESC), an Episcopal non-profit that invites men and women in their 20s to live in intentional community while serving those in need for 9 to 12 months through an internship with a nonprofit organization. The national network of 30 programs spans the country from Boston to Hawaii.
Each program has its own charism that is informed by the local context, responding to the needs of a city, town, or neighborhood. This means that ESC members harvest organic celery in southern California, tutor kids in New Orleans, rebuild homes on Staten Island, and work with refugees in Chicago.
Just as Episcopal parishes are diverse in culture, piety, and gifts all centered around the Book of Common Prayer and the Eucharistic feast, Episcopal Service Corps programs are diverse in personality, size, and internships all centered around:
ESC believes that how you spend your young adult years profoundly shapes the rest of your life, and that the church has valuable gifts to offer 20-somethings from all walks of life.
Episcopal communities have often struggled to incorporate single young adults into their congregations or to keep them engaged in the churches of their childhoods. Episcopal Service Corps addresses some of the practical needs of young adults—the opportunity to gain work experience through a full-time internship—and also engages their passions and ideals by serving the needs of marginalized people in society.
A year of service with ESC is an opportunity to work for justice by using skills and knowledge gained in school, rather than simply finding a job that will pay the bills.
Caitlin Clendenin, a 2012 alumna reflected on her service through the realization that “being a part of The Abraham Project (in Winston-Salem, NC) gave me the opportunity to follow the dreams God has for me. I exchanged learning from textbooks and professors for learning from experiences and people. Here I focused on being before doing, [discovering] formation as a way of life.”
Although many participants are initially drawn to ESC by the opportunity to serve and work for justice, the year of service gives them much more. Unlike programs such as AmeriCorps and Teach for America, ESC corps members live in intentional community with at least two other program participants in a mini-monastic community with a few modern twists.
For Bobby Hadzor, a 2011 alumnus from Life Together in Boston, the difference was clear. “Unlike in college, I was not only expected to survive and merely put up with the people I lived with, but I was also expected to live, eat, pray, clean, play, and thrive with the people I lived with.”
Retreats and other formation such as Bible study are also a part of the year. These aspects of a faith-based year of service add much more to a young adult’s vocational discernment and transition to life after school.
Young adults need not be Episcopalian or Christian to serve with ESC, although all corps members are expected to engage in conversations about God and faith, as well as attend community prayer and church liturgies. We understand that a year of service with ESC is an opportunity to meet all participants—cradle Episcopalian to seeker—in the questions they are asking about life and faith. Questions that are no doubt lifelong, but have particular urgency at this point in life.
If you know college students nearing graduation, invite them to apply at episcopalservicecorps.org or plant seeds of interest among high school and middle school students by
telling them about ESC!
Amity Carrubba (@AmityCarrubba) is executive director of the Episcopal Service Corps.
This piece is from the special young-adult-themed Summer 2014 issue of Episcopal Teacher.