Young People at General Conference 2016
In Portland, Oregon, USA at the 2016 General Conference, there will be 864 seated delegates making decisions about life in the UMC for the next four years. They will discuss and vote on the budget, ordination, the structure of the church, and the social principles we espouse. They will worship, argue, find common ground, pray (and worry) together. They will guide the part of the future of our denomination, and invoke the power of the Holy Spirit to lead them on the path God would have us take. Seated delegates at General Conference will do what they discern is best for the the life of the church through prayer, worship, and Christian conferencing. Looking back, several years from now, the church will see the fruits of decisions made in 2016 – whether those decisions seemed right or wrong at the time they were made. Some actions, or inactions, will seem right with the benefit of hindsight. Others will feel like a missed opportunity. Throughout the entire experience, the delegates will be covered in prayer by United Methodists all around the world. When you’re praying about General Conference, lift up a special prayer for the young people present.
Throughout the decision making process at General Conference, there will be a lot of rhetoric about what young people say, think, want, do, wish, etc. But very few young people are actually present to share their opinions!
Only 7% of the 864 seated delegates will be young people.
Less than 30 people under the age of 35 from the Central Conferences and only 33 people under 30 from the United States will be on the floor making decisions.
Almost half of these young people are women.
A mere 6 of them are clergy.
But these young people don’t speak with one voice. Young people are diverse in thought and belief, and so are these delegates. We thought it would be fun to share some of that diversity in this blog post. The people answering here are from Zambia, Florida, North Georgia, Great Plains, Virginia, Texas, Rocky Mountain, California-Pacific, Great Britain, Illinois Great Rivers, and Indiana.
Let’s say you want to be elected to serve at General Conference. How might you go about doing that?
Here’s how some of the young people were elected as seated delegates to General Conference 2016:
I was not on the nomination list but by the grace of God, one clergy (Rev. Dr. Cijika Christony) said we need young people to attend important meetings like the General Conference. I was nominated and the entire Annual Conference unanimously voted for me.
I attribute my success…to a couple of factors: I am a clergy kid, so I have some name recognition thanks to my parents. More importantly though, I have a very strong record of service to my annual conference, having served as CCYM president, on the Young Adult table, as a member of General COSROW and our annual conference COSROW, and as previously mentioned, as a GC/JC delegate in 2012. I have also spoken from the floor of Annual Conference in response to a number of resolutions that have been submitted since last GC.
Some conference leaders encouraged me to run for General Conference. I prayerfully considered whether I had the gifts and time to be a good delegate, if elected. I asked for help from others who had previously served as delegates to General or Jurisdictional Conference to guide me through the conference "campaign" rules and practices. I did not align myself with any particular caucus but promoted myself as a cradle United Methodist who wanted to do all I could to contribute to the integrity and future of the denomination. I further educated myself on issues coming up at GC. I made two speeches to laity asking for their support. Following the first speech, I responded to email questions about my stance on pending GC issues. At annual conference I passed out buttons with my photograph and candidate number. I was elected on the fifth ballot.
There are 4 reasons for why I was elected. The first being that I was a part of Kansas East delegation in 2012 as a jurisdictional alternate. So, I had some minor experience with the global church. The second reason is that I am a child of my conference. I am the son of 2 elders. I was born during Annual Conference session in 1995. For many years my birthday has been during AC. I turned 18 during AC and I will turn 21 during AC. The clergy and lay of the Kansas East and now the Great Plains are my extended family. I have been a delegate to the AC in one way or another since the summer of my 6th grade year. I have also had the opportunity to be a part of the leadership groups that planned and executed all of our conference youth events when I was in high school. I have been HEAVILY involved with my conference since the year I was born and I have no plans on ending that involvement any time soon. The third reason I got elected was the UMW. Many of them for one reason or another like me. Part of it is that I am a 20 year-old going on 60 so I enjoy being around these wonder women. When I was a kid my mom would drag me around when she taught at School of Christian Mission. Many of the women, much like the rest of my conference, know me from when I was little kid. Sometimes that is helpful and fun, sometimes not so much. But overall, I have real connection with the people of our conference. The last is our conference, well at least former Kansas East, has been very proactive about youth and young adult involvement at all levels. In 2012 KEAC had a seminary student, college student, and a high school student, (me), on the delegation. This time around we have 3 young adults who are GC delegates and 1 JC delegate.
Virginia Leigh Greer
I had the opportunity in November 2014 to speak to the Virginia Conference during a conference-wide Day of Holy Conversation. I was asked to speak as a young adult in response to the question of how we can move forward together. Rather than supporting particular legislation, I said that my hope for the future of our denomination is that we can keep talking to each other lovingly, with the openness to admit that we might not have all the right answers. That message resonated with people, and many remembered my name at Annual Conference last June.
I got elected to General Conference by my conference standing firm in its belief to invest in youth. A perfect example of this is by my conference electing me to the previous South Central Jurisdictional Conference and now, this quadrennial, electing me to General Conference. Furthermore, I like to say that I am a product of the Texas annual conference. Many people there have invested in me, my calling, and my life, and are still active in developing me into a servant leader, and making sure I have a shoulder to lean on when needed. Words cannot even begin to express the sincere gratitude I have for everyone, known and unknown to me, for support.
I have progressively become more involved in the church over the past four years (starting with the Global Young People’s Convocation and President of CCYM) and have enjoyed experiencing God outside my own local church. So, as my involvement increased, so did my faith and love for the United Methodist Church. The more I learned about General Conference and church polity the more I felt a passion burning in me. This past Annual Conference I decided to take a leap of faith to run to be a delegate and my conference voted for me to venture on this wonderful journey. Although I was worried some since the Great Plains is a newer annual conference, I prayed and talked with those in my conference about my passions and hopes for the church.
I am the first lay delegate from the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference. I received this position thanks to strong support from the laity of my conference. I have served on several boards and committees in the conference over the past eight years including the Conference Council on Youth Ministries, Board of Stewards, and our annual conference’s most recent merger taskforces. These experiences have helped me learn about the church and prepare to be a delegate to General Conference.
In 2014 I was nominated by a district leader at my district gathering. I won and went on to the election at my Annual Conference. At annual conference I was highly supported by the young people’s ministries, Hispanic and Latino Ministries, and the Justice and Compassion Essential Ministry. Thanks to these groups, and the support of other lay leaders in the Cal-Pac Conference I came in second, and now I will be going to General Conference.
Megan Mary Thomas
I got elected to the General Conference by the Great British Methodist Council or Conference (not sure I can remember which one made the actual vote) when I was serving my year as Methodist Youth President.
What are your hopes for the UMC and what are you most excited about as you attend General Conference 2016?
I would love to see a more united church where young people's matters are heard and young leaders are trained (provide scholarship to schools/universities) and also involve them in the leadership of the church because they hold the future church.
I am very excited in the sense that I want to learn more about how our church operates with regards to making laws and how the church agencies work together with episcopal areas. I would love the UMC to collectively, truthfully support its young people who are the world's biggest population.
My biggest hope for the UMC is that we remain a united church. I think it is critically important, especially given the divisiveness of non-church politics, that we model Christian conferencing and love for one another. It is easy to leave when the going gets tough; however, the best things in life are worth working for. [To create an analogy] this is like a big fight between spouses; the easy thing to do would be to just get divorced. However, we made a promise before God to one another (by virtue of our baptismal, confirmation, and new member covenants) that we would surround each other with love and forgiveness and that we would strive to strengthen the United Methodist Church. Those vows mean something to me, so I’m going to do everything in my power to work at maintaining the relationship, even when it is hard, rather than walking away. MY hope is that there are many others who will be doing the same.
This is my second General Conference, so personally I am most excited about being able to experience GC without the steep learning curve associated with being a first time delegate. I think it will be fascinating to be able to compare the two; to see what is the same, what is different, how we’ve changed, etc.
My hope for the United Methodist Church is that we live in to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through unity, love, but most especially respect. My hope is that we will open our hearts, open our minds, and open our doors to ALL people just as Christ insisted that we do, regardless of any differences—whether we understand those differences or not. My hope is that we can stand together as one church to fight oppression and injustice in all forms that they present themselves. My hope is that we can stand, hand in hand, whether Democrat or Republican, Braves fan or Nationals fan, central conference delegate or US delegate, and live in to our mission as the United Methodist Church so that there is a future United Methodist Church.
I am most excited to meet new people from across the connection and share in our mutual United Methodist backgrounds. I am also excited to just be a part of the history of the United Methodist Church as a delegate to General Conference.
I have many hopes. I do hope that we pass legislation that can make us more inclusive; however there is something that is more important: Last time around I left GC feeling broken, because frankly nothing happened. The discussions on these difficult issues were harsh, Plan UMC was struck down, and nothing changed. I left GC, not filled with hope for our church, but with fear. My hope is that no matter what happens, no matter what does or does not change, we can remember why we are United Methodist, and I can leave knowing that though we are divided and though we are in decline, we are more than our struggles. We may not agree on what we believe on some social issues, but that does not change the work that UMCOR does. Yes, we are in decline in the U.S., and need to look at ways to change that, but local churches and ministries across the connection are doing great work and are transforming lives and the world. My hope is that we can look at the hard things, talk about them, and address them in a positive way; but among those discussions and in spite of the hard issues, we are a church that is creating disciples for the transformation of the world.
I am most excited to be with other United Methodists from across the connection. One of the greatest parts of our church is our connectionism. It is an amazing experience to meet with others and learn about what the UMC looks like wherever they are from.
Virginia Leigh Greer
I hope we can learn to live together in all our diversity. I hope we can be brave enough to share our lives with people who will never see the world the way we do, people whose life experiences might make us uncomfortable. I hope at General Conference, we can remember to think theologically at least as often as we think practically. And in the midst of every disagreement and stressful discussion we engage as a church, I hope we always remember to celebrate all the good that has happened and continues to happen through our connection.
I’m excited for the worship services! I also look forward to eating lunch with different people from different places.
My hope for the United Methodist Church is that it can get back to being a church and not a business. I think there are many churches and leaders who are adamant about the local church, but there are still others who, for the most part, hold dear to the business model. Christ did not come to bring a building or mortar nor did Christ come to build the better Christian business bureau. Instead, Christ went out into the community meeting people where they are, extending both grace and truth. I believe the church is lackluster, at times, in providing the latter. The truth is often concealed in sermons and missional statements and often goes untold. God is now viewed as this peace, love and happiness deity, which God is, but God is hardly viewed as a justified, wrathful, angry, destructive deity. Sin is real, and living a sinful life goes against the teachings of Christ and the Torah. I also hope, in seeing the debates on homosexuality, that we all can agree upon a scriptural doctrine of homosexuality and its place, if any, in the life of the Church. Christ told us the most important command was to love God and then our neighbors, yet the primacy of loving God cannot be avoided. Furthermore, I hope the church can get to a place where it monitors the character and fortitude of our leaders’ spiritual lives; for how can anyone who is spiritually dead and has a scarcely existing relationship with God lead a vibrant church?
I cannot wait to meet my brothers and sisters under the umbrella of the United Methodist Church. This will be my first time attending General Conference, so I know there will be a lot going on, and major discussions with even bigger judiciary implications. Nonetheless, I just want to meet people from all over, especially delegates from beyond the borders of the U.S. There is so much to be learned and grasped from cultural diversity, and I am just so excited. I also heard Portland has great ice cream and is a sustainable city, so that will be exciting to see as well.
My hope for the United Methodist Church is that we continue to grow in grace for one another and faithfulness to God. Although divisive conversations lie ahead of the church, I pray each day that we strive to live in peace with one another and discern the Holy Spirit as a community. This is my hope not only for the larger church, but for the local church as well. I have a huge heart for the UMC and want nothing more than for us to continue to live in unity with one another as we discern what the future will look like.
I am most excited to meet with other United Methodists from around the world and reconnect with those who I have not seen in quite some time. The community of the church is where I personally experience God the most and truly believe the Holy Spirit will be amongst us as we gather to fellowship and discern. I am also excited about the Disciple Bible Study Celebration on May 19th and meeting with friends who have also found this bible study to be influential in their spiritual lives. The relationships I have made and will make through the connectionalism of the church are something I will always treasure.
I hope that we can embrace our vast differences and begin to view them as tools to aide us in ministry rather than walls that divide us. When Methodism came to America from England, Asbury noted that American Methodism can and would be different from Methodism in Europe because of the difference in cultures and geography. I hope that we can learn today what Asbury learned then, that geography and culture matter and our framework must change accordingly. At the same time, I hope we can do so in a way that keeps us united.
I’m excited for the opportunity to listen to, learn from, and work with leaders in the UMC from all around the world. I am excited to listen to their ideas and share some of my own in hopes of creating a stronger United Methodist Church.
Keep an eye on the petitions that were sent to GC2016 by the Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly. Young People from around the world worked hard to craft these petitions that represent their voice.
Megan Mary Thomas
My hopes for the United Methodist Church are to do with keeping God at the center. It's our human instinct to sometimes get wrapped up with decisions and procedure, but my hope is that the UMC will always refocus and remember that in all that we do God is the core, and everything else will stem from that. Always growing J
I'm excited to experience some of the similarities and differences between the General Conference and the Methodist Conference in Great Britain to share learning and fellowship, and to hear some exciting and rejuvenating conversations about the future of the Methodist Church both in America and worldwide
I have big dreams for the United Methodist Church. I think that we have the capacity to grow and do great things in people’s lives. We talk about being a connectional and inclusive church, but I believe we struggle to really “walk the talk”. As a church we lack in truly supporting young people, the LGBTQ community, and other underrepresented communities. My hope for the United Methodist Church is that we will be able to one day be a church with an open heart, open arms, and open doors––not for the selected few, but for everyone.
The thing that I am most excited about General Conference is being able to speak to other United Methodists about matters that will be affecting our denomination. I think this is exciting because I really value diversity in ideas from people across the world with people in our denomination.
My hopes for the UMC are that General Conference can help the church streamline its structure, and provide more support for local churches to make disciples for Christ. I hope we will rediscover our evangelistic fervor and remember that we are called to take the message of Christ into our hurting and broken world.
I am excited about doing God's work to help His church excel and make disciples for Christ.
My hope for the United Methodist Church is that we remain united in our goals and our vision. I wish for the church to come together with open hearts, open minds, and open doors on a variety of difficult issues and concerns before us at General Conference.
As a first-time delegate, I am excited to be a part of the decision making process in the church. I am very blessed to be elected by my annual conference to make decisions and help to shape the future of our church.
I am in seminary getting my M.Div. I am a certified deacon candidate. One thing I would like to see is more financial support for those that have promised their lives to this denomination. It is frustrating to be $70,000 in debt and to get $500 a year from the General Church. The other thing I would like to see is just more support in general for those in seminary. We get shipped off to a seminary for 4 years and don't see conference (emotional) support until graduation. It is easy to forget your calling. It is easy to get taken to a different conference. It is easy to change denominations in seminary. I did fight and invite myself to a clergy only event in my conference and it was exactly the support I needed to keep going.
I am extremely excited about being in the position where I have a say where my denomination goes, especially at a young age. I also love networking, and this is a great place to do it!
What would you like the UMC to know about its young members?
Young people are going through tough moments as the world's economy is deteriorating, therefore they need to be equipped with different skills for them to stand strong and face their fears for the future.
Primarily, that we are here! There seems to be a tendency to refer to young members as more of a nebulous concept, but we exist in the now and are excited and passionate about our Church and want to be included and involved.
I would like people to know that young people are not the future of the church, we are the present. Too often I hear that young members are the future of the church, but unless we are included now, in the present, there won’t be a future. I firmly believe that includes children, youth, and young adults.
The one thing I want the UMC and the GC to know is that I, and all the other young adults in the UMC are just as much apart of this as anyone else. Young adults are not the future, we are the church. We are active lay and clergy all across the globe doing amazing things. We are not the future. If the church continues to treat young adults as the future they may not be here for the future. We want to be involved.
Virginia Leigh Greer
The most important thing I think older UMC members need to remember is that I speak just as much for my entire generation as they do for theirs. That said, each young member of the UMC is still here for a reason. The best way to find out why we’re still here is to ask each of us. Some of our answers probably line up, and that’s the best clue we have to the future of our church.
In regards to young adults and youth, I want the UMC to know we have value and we do not fit a cookie cutter program. The youth and young adults of this day and age are passionate persons with zeal and a fire that has, often times, yet to be freed. Meaning youth and young adults have ideas, desires, and plans, but they aren’t given the opportunities to be themselves. In addition, I want the UMC to know that we are the gatekeepers of the future, and if the gates are to be shiny and functional then the UMC should invest in us, as it has done for a long time. I think allowing us to have different experiences and be exposed to more of life is great. This will look like having youth interns in the church who serve as pastors, deacons, members of the praise team, church administration, etc., so they can see what it’s like to serve in those roles. Missional or educational trips overseas or right down the road would be great for us. These are extremely important for youth and young adults. I still remember when my aunt told me at a young age, that exposure for a kid is powerful. I hope the UMC does not forget about the many youths incarcerated and living in dysfunctional homes. It is almost down right sad how many churches don’t go to see them or even provide resources for them to get through the week when home is not a safe place to live and thrive. Now I’m not saying the UMC is not doing these things or are not effective in doing such, but rather, I would like to charge the UMC to continue to invest in the young and to go above the “regular” means of ministry if they so can. There are exponentially more youth outside the church in comparison to those within its walls.
I would like the UMC to know that not all of its young members stand and believe the same on every issue. Although we are from the same generation and have a lot in common, I would encourage members of all ages to not categorize us as a particular political view or as a vote for one side or another. We, just as every other member, have a deep heart for unity and carry the church’s best intention at heart.
The UMC should know that young people around the world have thought critically about all of the issues that will be before the General Conference and are excited to be fully involved in every aspect of General Conference as well as the inner workings of the Church. Although many won’t be present at General Conference, they will be following the live streams and twitter feeds to watch what their church decides to do.
Megan Mary Thomas
I want to tell people that the 20-30's are not a 'missing generation' as we are commonly referred to...we’re here! And to remind people that not all young people speak with one voice, as much as not all older people speak with one voice. If people want to know what we think . . . then ask us!
I would like the United Methodist Church to know that young people count, are important, and are a core part of our church as a whole. I would also like the UMC to know that we are all just as capable and we deserve to be taken the time and attention to be nurtured so that we can not only become good leaders within the church, but in the world.
I hope the UMC knows that we have an incredible and diverse group of active young leaders in our church. Our young people are a reflection of our church as a whole.
I would like the UMC to know that its young members have a voice in the church and want the best for its ministry and its future. Often people misjudge youth and young adults because of their lack of experience, but we forget that Jesus was a young adult, too! Young adults and youth are not just the church of the future, but the church present, and their voice and vote matter.
I think those in churches need to know that young people value authenticity. We need to stop sugar coating Christianity. We need to stop sugar coating life. Life as a Christian, as a UM, is messy; it is hard; it will break your heart.
Where do you feel God calling you in ministry (as clergy or lay) and how can the church equip you for that?
I feel that God is calling me to be a clergy. It would be great if I was given a scholarship to study theology at any higher learning institution of the church.
I have felt a very strong calling in my life to working with college students as an advocate for victims of sexual assault on campus. To that end, I have completed my law degree, and am in the process of earning my Masters in Higher Education, specializing in Student Affairs, to equip myself with the proper tools to be the best advocate I can in that field. Through my work with GCOSROW, I have been able to see the church working toward making a difference in combatting sexual assault on campus. I could really talk forever on this topic, but I think this article sums up some of what the church is doing to tackle the endemic of assault, and how the church is working to equip people with a call like me to answer that call.
I have felt the call to ministry for much of my life. In college, I thought that meant as clergy and in my first year of seminary, realized that I could do just as much, if not more, as a lay member. I began working for a United Methodist church in Atlanta in the fall of 2011 and I have continued to work there. I am active in my own church, as well as the church I serve Monday through Friday. Being active in two different congregations has allowed me to meet all kinds of people, opinions, and theologies, which has allowed me to be more understanding in all aspects of my life—church and otherwise. It has also prepared me to be a General Conference delegate and a better United Methodist, in general.
I have felt the call to be an Elder for a while. I love this church and have a vested interest in its future. The church can best equip me and other young adults by giving us the chance to be in leadership, and to use the skills we have, to develop them and those we may not have even know we have. If we have the chance to be the church of today rather than just the church of tomorrow, then we can do amazing things.
Virginia Leigh Greer
I am currently a first-year MDiv student at Candler School of Theology and an admitted candidate in the VA Conference. I believe I’m called to serve as an ordained elder, and I believe my time in Atlanta is preparing me for the adventures I will encounter as a pastor. The church has always been there in some way when I needed it before, so I trust my supportive church will continue to be only an email or conversation away. That has been a great help to me thus far on the journey.
I feel God is calling me into ministry as an elder in the UMC as a pastor. I also feel God calling me to be a professor of Ethics or Black Church Studies in an HBCU, (historically black college or university), or any other number of institutions, maybe even my alma mater, Stephen F. Austin State University. In discerning this calling, exposure and opportunities, as I spoke about earlier, really helped me to flush out this thing called vocation. I was afforded the opportunity to attend Youth 2011 and Youth Exploration; I was a conference pastoral intern for the Texas annual conference for two years; and my home church, Jones Memorial UMC in Houston Texas, really poured into my life a whole lot. Through these means of discernment, as well as my first year here at Candler School of Theology, my calling has been crystalized. I can’t wait to see what God will do with me when my time here in seminary comes to a close.
I feel God calling me into ordained ministry. I have thoroughly enjoyed studying theology at Southwestern College and look forward to continuing my education into seminary. Although I am certain about this much, I am unsure as to what my “end goal” will be. I have a heart for missions and teaching, but also have enjoyed many other parts of ministry. I truly believe God could lead me in different parts of ministry throughout my life and think the church can best equip me and those in my same position by continuing to provide opportunities for young people to experience several different aspects of ministry. I am beyond thankful for the opportunities to serve and lead the United Methodist Church has provided thus far.
I am continuing to discern where God is calling me. I am currently pursuing a degree in Business at the University of Puget Sound, because I know that it is a degree that will be very applicable for future ministry as either a clergy or lay person. Regardless of my future career, I hope to be in continued service to and through the United Methodist Church. Continued thoughts and prayers for all of those who are currently discerning would be greatly appreciated. Also, please stay in touch with me, find me on Twitter at @thatdougdude
Megan Mary Thomas
I don't have a clue where God is calling me. After my year as Youth President I believe He called me out to work in China for a year, but I'm still trying to work out why! For me, it's okay for now to not know what God's calling me to do as that's part of the challenge of having an open heart ready to follow.
I feel that God is calling me as a lay person. The church can equip me for this by continuing to provide me with support. It can do this by funding programs that specifically target the abilities of young people so that they may be put to use in the church. The church should also not be afraid to include young people in leadership positions within the local church, district, and conference groups.
I am proud of my call to be a layman and to serve as a Sunday School and Bible study teacher in addition to being a history teacher and soccer coach at a local high school. The church helps equip me for my call in the same manner it helps equip other members for their calling - through prayers, love, mentoring, and continual support. I've been lucky to be surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who have supported and loved me and helped me grow in my faith.
I feel called to work with youth in whatever capacity God wishes to use me. I am a candidate for ministry as a Deacon and I currently work as a teacher's aide and volunteer with youth ministry in the church and in our conference. I find myself mentoring and teaching children and youth wherever I go. I feel church can equip me as it already does, by allowing me opportunities to work with youth and youth leaders.