The Rev. Arlette Benoit, who will earn her Master of Divinity degree and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from General Seminary this May, is becoming a national leader for youth ministry in The Episcopal Church.
Benoit is among the eight adults and 14 youth recently chosen by The Episcopal Church to serve as the 2014 Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) Mission Planning Team. Their work will be to design and lead the triennial EYE to be held next July 9-13, 2014 in the Philadelphia area, in partnership with the Diocese of Pennsylvania. This twelfth EYE, for youth in grades 9-12, is expected to draw hundreds of youth from throughout The Episcopal Church.
During the 2012-13 academic year, Benoit has been an intern in The Episcopal Church’s Office of Black Ministries, working with a team of clergy and lay leaders to develop the Rising Stars Experience (RISE), a new initiative aimed at countering what is known as the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” where children are pushed out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
“I was very active in the church in high school,” Benoit said. “We had an amazing priest who really allowed the youth of the congregation to have leadership positions. I served as president of the youth group, attended youth conferences like Happening, and was invited to synods and to be a youth presence on the vestry. As I think about my own experience and how formative those years were, I wish to create positive opportunities for youth today. I believe it’s an investment in their future.”
Benoit is a transitional deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and anticipates ordination to the priesthood in June. She has been invited by the Rt. Rev. Robert C. Wright, Bishop of Atlanta, to serve in the diocese after graduation and is anticipating youth-oriented ministry. In February 2013, she was appointed to serve as a Youth Ministry Liaison representing Province Four of The Episcopal Church to the Office of Youth Ministries.
She is especially passionate about The Episcopal Church’s response to systematic problems facing youth in society, which spurs on her work on the new RISE Experience. Many children in the Schools-to-Prison Pipeline have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and discriminatory application of “zero-tolerance” disciplinary policies, when they need community support. The RISE Experience, Benoit said, aims to provide a positive environment for youth, offering them opportunities to explore values to live by; develop skills in conflict management and negotiation; enjoy piano lessons, steel band practice, storytelling and story writing, arts and crafts, and outings; and to have one-to-one conversations with mentors.
On Saturdays, Benoit has been co-leading training sessions with mentors and volunteers at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx towards the creation of a pilot RISE Experience. Together, the Office of Black Ministries and parishioners of St. Andrew’s have been developing the curriculum. They are also currently receiving nominations for youth who will participate in this pilot. It will form the basis, Benoit said, for offerings in other urban parishes. “We are mindful that each setting is different, and plans will need to be fine-tuned for the future program,” she said. “But our hope is to develop something many parishes can use, because it’s needed.”