Young adults receive impromptu welcome to leadership stage

They might make different wardrobe or political choices, seem perpetually attached to some kind of electronic gadget and maybe have body piercings or tattoos.

But they’re God’s children and valued members of The United Methodist Church. And Thursday, after a dramatic moment in which Rev. Bob Bushong invited all Annual Conference attendees high school age to 30 years old to join their elders on a stage of leadership, they knew it.

Young adults surge from the floor and stadium seating to the leadership stage during Thursday's session.  -Photo by Rev. Armando Rodriguez

For about five minutes, young people surged forward from the floor and stadium seating until more than 50 had mounted the stage and shaken the hands of middle-aged authors of a plan intended to guide Florida’s Methodist churches for the next four years.

“Speak up. You matter,” Bushong told the young adults and observers, as the audience of about 1,300 rose to its feet and clapped encouragement. ”And you are not only the future of the church, you are the present.”

Bushong, senior pastor at First UMC in Winter Park, serves on the team that drafted the plan. He told audience members they need to remember young people in their leadership planning when they return to their own churches.

The spontaneous moment followed audience reaction to recommendations in the four-year Strategic Leadership Plan outlined at the Conference. Three young men told the leadership team the church offers little for those who age out of youth groups and move on to college. One said some churches even seem judgmental and unwelcoming of young people.

Another asked how the plan could address the needs of his generation when no one of his age group was on the committee that drafted the plan. Bishop Timothy Whitaker, who appointed the planning committee, promised that younger members would be considered going forward.

Delegates to the Annual Conference overwhelmingly adopted the strategic plan by a show of hands, but not before church and Conference leaders heard from several speakers about how far the United Methodist Church has to go to fulfill the recommendation for “radical hospitality” and increased diversity in its ranks.

Some said the Conference needs to provide more training and encouragement for lay leadership. Others said they had heard well-intentioned plans before, but real needs were going unfulfilled for people of all ages and walks of life.

Rev. Bob Bushong offers a prayer for Florida Conference young adults.  -Photo by Rev. Armando Rodriguez

James Neal of St. Mark UMC, Lakeland, said he was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“Why does it seem as though I have heard this before?” he said of the plan’s goals. “We know what the problems are, and we know what the solutions are.

“But we are leaving out one of the biggest and most powerful things that we can do to revitalize our church, and that is we have left out the spirit of the true and living God.”

He added, “When we invited the Holy Spirit into our meetings, there was no problem getting new people, more people, young people, a diversity of people. And when we invite the Holy Spirit here, we will have no more problems with our churches.”

Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, Conference liaison to the planning team, said audience comments were recorded and will be considered as the team contemplates how to implement the plan.

For churches, the Strategic Leadership Team report recommends that success be measured in development of Christ-like disciples, congregations that genuinely welcome people from all walks of life and communities transformed through “salty service.”

The report also recommends a streamlined Conference in which departments work more closely together and focus on the organization’s core mission, which is to serve congregations and such extension ministries as camps and college campus and outreach programs.

The report recommends extending inclusivity training to more local church leaders to further recognize the increasing diversity of Florida’s population. It also recommends training programs to help congregations reach out to people in poverty, especially children.

Questions about the plan may be texted to 863-797-4147. 

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