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July 18, 2003


Young adults search for their place conference

Photo by Andi Smith      

BELFAST, Ireland - Candler School of Theology student Kirkland Reynolds, upper right, spent two summers inBelfast, Ireland, as part of the United Methodist Volunteers In Mission ministry. Reynolds worked to help bridge the gap between Catholic and Protestant youth along a peace divide.
Divinity student says future is now.

By J.A. Dunn

LAKELAND — There’s a murmur in the Florida Conference, and if Kirkland Reynolds has his way it’s going to develop into a roar.

Reynolds, a divinity student at Candler School of Theology, is questioning the role of young adults in the conference after the Conference Council on Ministries’ (CCOM) Young Adult Ministry team voluntarily surrendered its 2004 funding of $10,000 at the 2003 Florida Annual Conference Event last May.

Mike Standifer, director of Youth, Young Adult and Summer Camp ministries, said it was a tough decision to give up the money, but there isn’t an active group of young adults in the conference. He said the decision was actually made at a CCOM meeting earlier this year.

Standifer said if a core group of young adults becomes active, there will be an opportunity for the funding to be replaced in the future.

“I don’t think there’s been a meeting of young adults of any kind in the last two years,” Standifer said. “It’s just a defunct kind of group. We gave up the money because it was the responsible thing to do for stewardship.”

Reynolds remains uneasy about the lack of funding.

“I’m just so frustrated,” said the member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando. “It wasn’t that it was just cut, it was completely eliminated. I’m confused about what I’m supposed to do now. Everyone talks about what will happen when I get older in the future, but the future is now.”

Mike Crawford can relate to Reynolds’ frustration. The director of church relations at Florida Southern College in Lakeland says he also struggled with the conference’s understanding of young people as he grew up in the church and within the conference.

“Young adults don’t think they have a voice,” said Crawford, who has 18 years of experience working with student and young adult ministries within the conference. “Quite frankly, I don’t believe they fit into the structure of the church. The church doesn’t know what to do with them. We have got to change if we’re going to keep our young people.”

Crawford, 38, said one the best worship experiences he’s had in a long time happened at the 2003 Florida Annual Conference event, but outside the Lakeland Center. He said after the evening worship ended he and a group of about 10 people in their 20s went to a coffee house and discussed the day’s business.

“We talked about whatever was talked about that day during annual conference. We talked about life struggles; we talked about good and evil. I think they [youth] just want us to be in dialogue with them,” Crawford said.

Reynolds, who was a lay delegate at the 1999, 2000 and 2003 annual conferences, attended that impromptu gathering and said that’s what young adults need more of in the conference. He said young adults don’t want to sit in a classroom to come up with things to do.

“We want a place of our own,” Reynolds said. “The ‘Book of Discipline’ calls for a young adult council, and we don’t have one. I think the answer is for the older generation to share power and not give it up totally. It just seems to be hard to get your foot in the door.”

Once they are invited in Crawford said the church must have creative ways to keep them involved. He shared the story of a group of students at Florida Southern College who decided to use their cafeteria meals cards to buy food to feed the homeless as an example. He said the group of young people attending the 2003 annual conference event wanted to know why the body couldn’t do something for the community when they get together once a year, such as build a Habitat Home.

“The ministry will happen out of the young people,” Crawford said. “They [Florida Southern students] didn’t get a committee together when they wanted to do something. They just went out and did it.”

During the 2003 conference event Reynolds spoke from the floor questioning the conference about the $10,000 cut. He said his was the lone voice, and he vows to continue speaking up for the younger generation.

“I have had so many people encourage me and support me as I go into the ministry,” Reynolds said. “I just want to feel appreciated in the conference.”

Jana Hart, executive director of Higher Education and Campus Ministries, said young adult voices may not have been heard at annual conference because they can’t afford the expense of attending for four days. She is optimistic more young adults will attend next year’s conference event, which will be held on a weekend.

Hart said the role of lay delegate is also often given to a person in the local church who is greatly respected by the congregation.

“This type of recognition and experience takes years to earn,” Hart said. “I see more and more churches trying to be responsive to young adults. They are creating outreach programs for this age group and beginning to understand how critical it is to be an inclusive church.”

Standifer is willing to sit down at the table and be in dialogue to make that happen.

“It doesn’t have to be a large group of people,” he said. “We’re just looking for young adults who are active in their churches.”

For more information or to participate in dialogue about young adult ministry contact Standifer at 800-282-8011, extension 138, or mstandifer@flumc.org

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