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Youth, young adults to be seen and heard at annual gathering

Youth, young adults to be seen and heard at annual gathering

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Youth, young adults to be seen and heard at annual gathering

April 27, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0665}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — When looking out over the attendees gathered at pretty much any annual conference across the country it’s not unusual to see mostly older members.

But at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event, youth and young adults will have a heightened presence, thanks to a mandate from last year’s gathering that said their involvement is a priority.

In keeping with that goal, specific activities and events have been planned to reach out to a demographic whose input in conducting the annual business of the church is greatly missed.

Hearing their voice

Youth and young adults often participate in worship celebrations that take place at annual conference events, like this dance ensemble from Wesley United Methodist Church in Miami participating in the service of communion and celebration of missions during the 2006 annual gathering, but there is little involvement by young people in the business of the conference. Photo by Caryl Kelley. File Photo #06-370. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0496/June 4, 2006.

Eighteen youth and young adults from the conference’s East Central District will be attending the conference event. Although that’s the largest number from any district, the Rev. Wayne Wiatt, superintendent of the East Central District, said every district is doing well in gaining representation from the target age group.

Wiatt said it’s important for them to be involved because their “faces and voices” have been missing in the past.

“We want them to have a presence,” he said. “We don’t want to overlook them. If we have youth and young adults participating at annual conference it will enable us to be more attentive to their needs.”

That presence is an official part of the agenda. Last year, Florida Conference members passed a resolution calling for specific time set aside for youth and young adults to address the conference this year.

To achieve that goal, conference staff and members of the annual conference event planning committee have encouraged rising 10th-graders to recently graduated seniors to apply to give a youth address that would be no longer than 750 words, be deliverable in five minutes or less and focus on the topic of passing the Christian faith from generation to generation, using Luke 1:46-55 and Psalm 145:4 as scriptural references.

The planning committee will pay for all lodging and travel expenses for each presenter, and each presenter will receive a $150 scholarship from the conference’s Connectional Ministries office.
The team received 12 entries by the April 16 deadline and is hoping to include three presentations during the conference sessions.

Once young people are at the annual conference event, Wiatt said they will be a valuable asset, providing an opportunity for the annual conference to learn from them. At the same time, Wiatt said the event can play an important role in their lives. While growing up in the South Georgia Conference, Wiatt said youth there participated in a mock annual conference event, a formative experience for him. He said he is pleased the Florida Conference is giving youth and young adults an official voice and vote.

Mike Crawford, director of church relations for Florida Southern College, agrees the church can learn a great deal from the demographic.

“This generation is certainly a people of faith, but they worship in a much different way than we do,” he said. “So I certainly hope we listen to them. If we don’t, we’ll lose them, not to the faith, but to the church. The theme this year is ‘From Generation to Generation,’ and we need to listen and learn from them how to do church and keep them involved.”

Speaking in a language they’ll understand

Warren Pattison, media and worship staff member at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, said young people are not just starting to disappear from church pews.

“We are in the midst of a huge cultural shift,” he said. “It’s not just about the generational differences we’ve been navigating for decades, it’s a seismic shift in the way people view and understand the world.

“There are at least two coexisting paradigms today. The church is largely in the old paradigm that we’ve been living in since the Enlightenment. Young people are living in the new paradigm that has been emerging for the last 60 or so years.”

Pattison said one is not better than the other, but they are very distinct. He said the Gospel is as relevant as it ever was, but young people aren’t hearing or responding to it because it’s not communicated in a language they understand.

Conference organizers are hoping a U2charist service at 7 p.m. June 8 will speak to youth in a language that resonates with many of them: music.

Jen Packing-Ebuen, a member of Watermark Church, shows off her T-shirt after the Oct. 1 U2charist service at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa. The service highlighted the fight against the global AIDS epidemic, extreme poverty around the world and what one person can do to make a difference through the ONE Campaign. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. File Photo #06-447. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0559/Oct. 12, 2006.

The event features the music of the rock band U2 and Bono, the band’s lead singer. Along with the liturgy of communion, the U2charist uses U2’s biblically rich lyrics and social justice message to inform and empower communities to respond to the critical issues of extreme poverty, hunger and the AIDS pandemic. It also highlights what one person can do to make a difference through the ONE Campaign.

ONE is a coalition of more than 70 non-profit, advocacy and humanitarian organizations that was started by 11 aid groups, including Bread for the World, CARE and World Vision, according to the ONE Web site. More than 2 million people have signed ONE’s declaration to eradicate poverty, and more than 3 million people have supported the group by buying and wearing white ONE wristbands. Many actors and musicians support the group, including U2 and Bono, who has become a prominent advocate in the fight against global AIDS and poverty.

The U2charist is an Episcopal (Rite III) Eucharist service that features a message about God’s call for people of faith to rally around the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Every nation in the world has endorsed the MDG to eradicate poverty and AIDS. Many churches and denominational bodies, including the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, have also endorsed them. Bono is the global MDG ambassador.

Created by Sarah Dylan Breuer*, a liturgical consultant in Cambridge, Mass., U2charists are used to reach congregations and the larger community, specifically young people. The service, the music and U2’s message are about global reconciliation, justice for the poor and oppressed, and the importance of people caring for their neighbors — a core value much like the Wesleyan tradition of the world as each person’s parish.

A U2charist was held at Pattison’s church last year. Pattison, who’s working to organize the U2charist at the conference event, said people at his church are still talking about it.

The conference service will be very similar to the one at Pattison’s church. It will be held in the Lakeland Center Arena with a live band performing U2 songs and digital media projected on screens.

“This is a communion service,” Pattison said. “We want people to hear and live the words, ‘Make this bread and cup be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood.’ ”

While some people may attend for the music, Pattison said they will also learn about the devastation of AIDS and extreme poverty, opening their eyes “to the suffering of our sisters and brothers around the world, particularly in Africa.”

“They hear Jesus saying, ‘You give them something to eat’ from Luke 9:13 and ‘Whatever you have done to the least of these my sisters and brothers, you have done to me’ from Matthew 25:40,” he said. “They hear ‘new’ things in the lyrics of the songs.”

Attendees will also learn practical tools to answer Jesus’ call through the ONE campaign and the work of organizations like the General Board of Church and Society and Bread for the World.

“It's not just about learning about the devastation of AIDS and extreme poverty,” Pattison said. “It’s about hearing the Gospel proclaimed through music, scripture and liturgy and being empowered to do something about it.”

Expressing themselves now, in the future

The Rev. Andrew Sistrunk, a probationary deacon at First United Methodist Church in Port Orange, is helping organize another youth/young adult-related event called Expression ’07: The Expression of the Soul.

Expression ’07 will follow the U2charist and be held at 8:30 p.m. at Florida Southern College. It’s a unique kind of art festival or show that focuses on the intersection of art and faith through music, visual art and film. Woodale, a local Lakeland band, will be the featured performer (, but all youth and young adults are invited to perform or contribute to Expression ’07.

The five or six best bands involved with church youth groups will be invited to play during the event. Organizers are searching for bands whose art connects with and is inspired by their faith. A music review team will choose the bands to perform. Interested participants are asked to provide a CD of their band’s performances.

Works of art and film should include visual art that can be displayed during the event and inspired by faith and life, using the theme, “The Expression of the Soul.” Film entries should be a two- to three-minute, student-produced digital film that can be shown at the event.

A number of Florida Conference churches are working to reach out to youth and young adults. Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Bradenton has started a youth ministry for kids in its neighborhood as a response to vandalism. The ministry features youth night every Friday at the church, giving the kids an opportunity to skateboard, listen to music and just hang out. Photo courtesy of Emmanuel United Methodist Church. Photo #07-0572. Web photo only.

Sistrunk, who describes the lack of presence and participation by young people as “an epidemic of missing youth/young adults and young clergy in the church,” says the focus on young people is not intended to slight any other generation.

“The fact is the church needs a future,” he said. “Some people will have to let go in order for that to happen, in order for the church to grow into its future. I think we can achieve a balance, but I also know there are probably people who have been delegates to annual conference for 20 or 25 years.”

If a church doesn’t have representation by young people at the annual conference event, Sistrunk said it’s a definite “black eye” on that church.

Sistrunk says this year’s efforts are “a step in the right direction,” but they can’t end this year if leaders want young people to return each year.

Wiatt said he is hopeful what’s been planned will draw young people to the conference; that their participation might encourage them to consider being a member to conference next year. And with each subsequent year, they will witness the connectional church as one big family.

Pattison said the church can’t give up on young people and encourages them to participate in the annual conference event.

“The church values you,” he said. “The church needs you. The world needs you. This event (U2charist) is about more than United Methodism. It’s about changing the world.”

Getting connected

A third event will be a trip to Wet ’n Wild in Orlando June 9. The cost is a reduced admission price of $28.40 per person.

Churches in Orlando and Lakeland are willing to provide space for youth groups that need overnight lodging. Churches looking for a place to stay should contact churches directly to make arrangements. A list of churches in either city may be found through the church locator on the Florida Conference Web site at by putting the name of the city in the city name field.

Registration and funds to attend Wet ’n Wild must be submitted by May 14. Tickets purchased before the deadline will be available at a table outside Wet ’n Wild from 9-11 a.m. Tickets for late arrivals may be picked up at the Will Call booth. Tickets may also be purchased at the gate at full price.

The U2charist and Expression ’07 events are free. Registration is requested, although not mandatory, to help event planners know how many people to expect. Individuals needing more information or wanting to register for these events and the Wet ’n Wild day are asked to visit
More information about Expression ’07 is available by contacting Sistrunk at All CDs, art and films for Expression ’07 should be sent to Sistrunk at 305 Dunlawton Ave., Port Orange, FL 32127. All media entries should be clearly labeled so they may be returned after the show.

More information about U2charist and Wet ’n Wild is available by contacting Kelly Moore at or 800-282-8011, extension 183.

More information about the U2charist is also available by visiting Information on the critical issues addressed during a U2charist can be found at

* This article originally credited the creation of the service to the Rev. Paige Blair, an Episcopal priest. e-Review learned this was inaccurate and made the correction 7/26/07.


This article relates to 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.