Episcopal Service Corps offers young adults an opportunity to serve others, explore their faith

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Mar 22, 2024

These young adults were 2021-2022 participants in the Jubilee Year program in Los Angeles, one of eight programs of the Episcopal Service Corps in which participants spend a year living in community and working for justice through community building, local collaboration, prayer and action. Photo: ESC website

[Episcopal News Service] For more than 40 years, young adults across The Episcopal Church have been engaged in a variety of grassroots, yearlong service projects that include living in intentional communities, serving their neighborhoods, sharing in faith formation and discerning vocational direction.

Known as the Episcopal Service Corps, these programs have been part of The Episcopal Church’s Department of Faith Formation since 2018.

This year 38 young people between the ages of 21 and 32 are serving in one of eight ESC programs, where they are living in community and working to “transform for justice through community building, local collaboration, prayer and action.” While these efforts are coordinated through the Department of Faith Formation, the programs operate independently in both urban and rural locations.

The year of service isn’t an internship but rather an opportunity for young people to participate in programs that help them hone their professional skills, work with mentors to engage in discernment about their future and explore their own spirituality. Each volunteer receives housing and insurance coverage, as well as stipends for food, living expenses and transportation.

All eight programs currently are accepting applications for the 2024-2025 program year, with a deadline of May 31. An online discernment quiz helps those applying to identify which programs might be right for them.

Episcopal News Service recently asked two people currently serving in Episcopal Service Corps programs to talk about their experience – Charles Mullis in the Johnson Service Corps in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina; and Olivia Bergeron in On Sacred Ground in Cody, Wyoming.

Their answers are edited for length and clarity.

ENS: How did you discover the Episcopal Service Corps, and why did you apply to be a member?

Charles Mullis is participating in the Johnson Service Corps in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. Photo: Submitted

Mullins: My job search in my senior year of college was scattered. I was familiar with the Episcopal Service Corps since my sister participated in a program the prior year. And with so many of my peers taking remote jobs, I figured that doing something so unabashedly in-person would set me apart in the long run.

Bergeron: I was a senior in college, returning to the retreat center where I first attended Happening (a weekend spiritual retreat for youth) and felt like I was definitely too burned-out from online school to go directly to medical school. A deacon told me about the Episcopal Service Corps. It sounded way too perfect to be true, but I decided I would find a way to make it happen.

ENS: What part of your service do you find most rewarding and most frustrating?

Mullins: Half my work at Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, North Carolina, is in the Development Department, creating materials to celebrate the work Habitat has done over 40 years of history, and the other half is in the Homeowner Services Department, trying to re-engage a community that does not have the highest opinion of Habitat. For the first few months, the split in my role was genuinely confusing, and it felt like I wasn’t getting anything done. For the Development work, I was organizing old photos and newspaper clippings, and for Homeowner Services, we were doing research and taking inventory of everything we knew about the community. But then I saw a finished video made from the photos I pulled, and that motivated me not only on more history work, but on community engagement work as well.

Olivia Bergeron is participating in On Sacred Ground in Cody, Wyoming. Photo: Instagram

Bergeron: The most rewarding part is the work I’ve gotten to do with kids. I helped out with Rite 13 at church, taught puberty education classes for girls last year, and facilitate Art and Info classes on environmental topics this year. It warms my heart to see these kids and their families around town and to know that I’ve made a difference for them. As for the most frustrating part, it is difficult to be away from home and my family.

ENS: How would you say you’ve grown spiritually, or deepened your faith, by participating in the Service Corps?

Mullins: I’ve learned not to even try to answer this question. There are a number of congregations that support Johnson Service Corps, and we spent the first three months of the program visiting each for a Sunday Eucharist service. It was interesting to observe the similarities and differences between them. After that, I spent another month or two discerning which church I would attend regularly, and in the end the church I felt most at home in was not at all the one I expected it to be.

Bergeron: To be fully honest, when my program director had us praying together every day after work this year, I started hating the experience the same way I had back when we had to pray the whole rosary before each class for a month in Catholic school.

ENS: What have you learned about human relationships and conflict resolution from communal living?

Mullins: First, give yourself plenty of grace to make mistakes. Second, don’t forget about trust in relationships. The pedantry of conflict resolution is necessary sometimes, and it’s never a bad idea to communicate clearly with others. But remember that the end goal is to build relationships in which both parties know something about each other and accept each other for who they are. And third, it is sometimes OK to avoid conflict! If you’re satisfied with most of your relationships, then be grateful.

Bergeron: No answer provided.

ENS: What do you plan to do next, and has your year of service helped with that decision in some way?

Mullins: I am in the process of applying for jobs for next year. Right now, I am most interested in teaching jobs, which I never even considered last year. I didn’t foresee how much I would miss being in a classroom now that I haven’t been in one for a year, so I figure it would be good to try being at the front of one.

Bergeron: I realized last year that healthcare wasn’t the ideal environment for me, so I hope to continue at my placement site this year.

ENS: What piece of advice would you give someone thinking about applying for the Episcopal Service Corps?

Mullins: First, never feel obligated to do a year of service because it’s morally good or right. You will do so much good just by being yourself and doing what you love doing. If you don’t know what it means to “be yourself,” try to distill your interests into a definitive list, and see if there’s a way you can explore just one of those interests deeply, and there may be opportunities to do that within the Episcopal Service Corps.

Bergeron: Sign up and do it. It’s nine months of guaranteed resources to keep you alive doing good in the world, and it’s an adventure.

—Melodie Woerman is a freelance reporter based in Kansas.