During the pandemic lockdown, the people of Calvary Episcopal Church in Underhill could take heart knowing their junior warden, Audie Cota, was checking in on the building regularly. Cota, who lives nearby, carried out this and other duties of junior warden, all while juggling schoolwork. “I think I was 13 at that time,” Cota says. “I’m in ninth grade now.”
Even three years later, Cota remains the youngest warden in the Diocese of Vermont. “In 2020, they were looking for a junior warden, and just as a joke, my dad volunteered me for the job,” Cota remembers. “And they were like ‘oh yeah, maybe we could do that.’ And they looked into it more, and found out that I could. And because it was right down the road from my house, I could walk and check to make sure the heating was working and that kind of stuff.”
“They keep us young,” the Rev. Robert Stuhlmann, Calvary’s priest-in-charge, says of Cota, who uses the pronouns they/them. “I’m almost 80, but I’ve always dug people who are creative and energetic and thought outside the box.”
Cota has always been a member of the Episcopal Church, and when their family moved to Vermont from Oklahoma in 2018, they began attending services at Calvary. “I really love it there,” they say. “The people are very nice – I think of them as my grandparents. It’s a small church – you know everyone’s name. It was unlike other churches I’ve been to.”
Serving on vestry, Cota has developed skills that apply outside church. “I’m in National Honor Society at my school, and I was the only one there who knew what meeting minutes were, because I go to vestry meetings,” they say.
In addition to their service as junior warden, Cota plays guitar during Sunday services, and, along with their two siblings and other young people in the congregation, put on plays for the community. “We have props, and everything,” Stuhlmann says.
Stuhlmann says that in order to provide a welcoming community for young people, a congregation must have “an open heart and an open mind. I think the key is to stop worrying about things, and get the kids involved at the decision-making level. Ask them for their input. Say, ‘what would you like to see?’ And then do it.”
Cota says they know they have classmates who belong to faith traditions and attend services, but doesn’t know of any other students serving in a governance role. When asked what they might say to someone their age considering trying church out, Cota says, “I would say it’s interesting in a non-religious way, too. Prayer is very poetic, and that’s cool. And the songs and music in church are beautiful, and so are church buildings. So, it’s just a beautiful experience to sit through. And it’s lovely talking to people – church people are very kind.”
“Audie said the thing they got most from confirmation class was, ‘I know that God loves me,’ Stuhlmann says. “They have a lot of self-confidence. They’re wonderful. They can do anything they want to do.”
Photo: Audie Cota with Bishop Shannon after their confirmation at Mission Farm, Killington. Calvary, Underhill Facebook Page