|Kelly Minter, Conference coordinator of youth activities, gives directions to a young Conference attendee. -Photo by Tom Mulryan|
Check-in time for youth delegates and visitors found Kelly Minter handing out meal tickets, keys and directions Wednesday at Florida Southern College, where 58 young people and chaperones filed into orientation sessions to prepare for the Florida Annual Conference that starts today at The Lakeland Center.
“This is the first year since Daytona [in 2009] we’ve had this many observers, which is really exciting,” said Minter, Conference coordinator of youth activities. “I think [it’s] because school is out.”
Some of the young people were delegates. Many were observers. For all, the rules listed by Minter were straightforward:
1. No cussing. The penalty if you do? A $1 fine or 20 push-ups or sit-ups.
2. Respect each other.
3. Stay in groups of three while on campus and “no girls in guys’ rooms, no guys in girls’.”
4. “Be where you are supposed to by when you are supposed to be there.”
Most importantly, Minter said, the orientation session was intended to show the youths “why they are here and why topics they don’t think pertain to their lives are topics that do pertain to their lives.”
Amid the hubbub, tweens and teens who came from different parts of Florida shared viewpoints ranging from attending the conference to technology to church business.
Samantha Parsons, 18, an observer from Cason UMC in Delray Beach, plans to enter youth ministries.
She said she came to Annual Conference in hopes of meeting new people and getting a behind-the-scenes look at how at how everything comes together, “to get a better understanding of how the church works as a whole.”
Parsons said attracting a younger population is the church’s greatest challenge.
|A young adult packs it in at Florida Southern College on Wednesday. -Photo by Tom Mulryan|
“There’s a certain way the older church members think and aren’t open to change,” she said. “Youth have a different expectation of the church.”
She would like to see slightly more contemporary services, and she views technology as a divisive issue for the church as a whole.
“It splits the church age-wise,” she said.
Alex Confer, 18, is a voting delegate from First UMC, Winter Park. He said he has considered the ministry, but he also is “big into technology.” He plans to remain involved in the church, no matter where his career path takes him.
And he is excited to be at the Conference.
“I love the opportunity to come and see what’s going on. This is a good way to get plugged in. I don’t have an agenda. Just here to share my gifts, whatever they may be.”
Matthew Mercer, 16, is a voting delegate from Covenant UMC in Port Orange, and he said he looks forward to making his views known by voting.
"I think [delegates] can give the viewpoint of the church on how young people are thinking,” he said. “There are different viewpoints in different generations. I think it’s a little [because] of technology.”
Younger visitors also listed their individual reasons for attending three days of UMC business.
• Haley Reid, 12, First UMC, Naples: “I’m expecting to learn more about how we cooperate together.”
• Emily Hugan, 12, First UMC, Naples: “I want to be very involved overall in things in the church.”
• Lexie Graham, 15, First UMC, Winter Haven: “I wanted to know how the church works.”
• Shakir Desuza, 15, Village UMC, Fort Lauderdale: “A better connection with God.”