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Push for strong youth delegation at annual event shows promise

Push for strong youth delegation at annual event shows promise

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Push for strong youth delegation at annual event shows promise

May 17, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0672}

NOTE: This article is a sidebar to “Youth, young adults to be seen and heard at annual gathering” at

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

LAKELAND — According to the U.S Congregational Life Survey, 2001, “worshipers nationwide are aging, but the population of United Methodist congregations is already gray.”

Conducted by Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research, the survey of more than 300,000 worshipers in more than 2,000 congregations of all denominations showed the largest percentage of United Methodist churchgoers is 45 and older.

Researchers further noted for every United Methodist under age 25 “there are six senior citizens,” with nearly “twice as many senior citizens occupying United Methodist church pews” as adults ages 25 to 44.

Leaders of the Florida Conference are using the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event as an opportunity to begin changing those figures and attract the vanishing youth-young adult demographic. So far, they’ve made progress toward achieving that goal.

Each of the conference’s nine districts are sending youth and young adult representatives 30 and younger to this year’s annual event, bringing the total to a little more than 100 to date.

Just as conference leaders are concerned about the dwindling numbers of younger laity involved in the church, so too are they looking at ways to attract younger clergy. The Revs. Melissa Pisco and Marcus Zillman were two of five young clergy who participated in a panel discussion about their experiences at a summit held by the Florida Conference earlier this year on the recruitment of younger clergy. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #07-0575.

Most are laity serving as district members-at-large; several are serving as their church’s representative to the event. A handful are clergy members, although the conference’s 60 clergy who are 35 and younger — from elders in full connection to student local pastors — may attend and vote. Deacons and elders in full connection participate in all voting; probationary clergy and local and student pastors vote on all conference matters except constitutional amendments and General and Jurisdictional conference delegates.

The Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of the conference’s Connectional Ministries office, said a number of objectives are behind the push for greater involvement from younger members. One is for the conference to do a better job of listening to them and learning who they are. Another is tapping into their ideas and exposing older, long-term leaders to upcoming leaders.

Presentations by younger members, similar to the episcopal and laity addresses and presentations by other conference leaders that take place at annual conference, are part of the scheduled business agenda this year. Event coordinators have also planned specific activities with younger members in mind, like a U2charist service, featuring the music of the rock band U2, and Expressions ’07, a kind of art festival or show focusing on the intersection of art and faith through music, visual art and film. Leaders are hoping these kinds of activities, as well as the chance to have a real voice in the business of the conference, will be a draw for younger members.

Burkholder said she hopes efforts to include younger members in the life of the conference don’t end with this event.

“We hope to make this a permanent part of annual conference,” she said. “These are important voices that need to be heard. They need to be patient with those of us who are older, and we need to value the world where they live.”

Lynette Fields, executive director for Servant Ministry at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, said she hopes each annual conference event will find ways “to connect with the younger generations.” She said it’s not necessary for the church to wait until youth are older to listen to their ideas and be challenged by new perspectives.

As a high school student in the North Indiana Annual Conference, Fields said a large youth delegation participated in that conference’s annual gatherings and she was mentored by older adult clergy and lay leaders who instilled in her that her presence and voice were valued. Now, she is doing the same by encouraging younger Florida Conference members to be seen and heard.

“There has been an intentional effort led by the district superintendents to find youth and young adults willing to serve the church in this way,” she said. “It makes all the difference. Since the Florida Conference does not have any recent history with a youth and young adult delegation, it was important that our leaders lead the way.”

Accepting the challenge

Eighteen youth and young adults from the conference’s East Central District will be attending this year’s gathering; 14 will be representing the Gulf Central District. Most of the other districts are averaging about 10 each.

Youth have had a presence at previous annual conference events, such as the commissioning of 90 summer camp team leaders by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker in 2005 and reports by the conference youth ministry team and Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry. This year, however, marks the first there has been an intentional effort to recruit a delegation of youth, increasing the involvement of younger members in the business of the conference and as leaders. Photo by Geoff Anderson. Photo #07-0576.

Josh Bell, a student at Asbury Theological Seminary’s Orlando campus, will be among those attending from the East Central District. He said he is excited about the opportunity to participate.

“I’ve been United Methodist all my life and plan on being United Methodist for the rest of my life, and I think it’s time to get a better understanding of how the church works,” said the 24-year-old, who is a member of First United Methodist Church in Winter Park.

Sixteen-year-old Samuel Mwenda said he is also excited and ready to lead the way for his generation. The member of Covenant United Methodist Church in Daytona Beach will be a member for the first time this year.

Mwenda, who serves on his church’s staff parish relations committee, said young people offer a different mindset, and he thinks it’s a good idea for the church to stress the importance of youth-young adult involvement.

“It’s my dream to be part of the larger church,” he said. “I really want to come and see what God has in store for me.”

Fifteen-year-old Amy Smith has had some experience with the process. The member of First United Methodist Church in Ormond Beach attended an annual conference event when her older sister served as a youth member. She said the church has been a large part of her life, as well as the life of her family.

Smith said it’s important for younger people to connect with the larger church, and she’s excited about attending. “I think it’s going to be educational and that I’m going to learn a lot.”

At the same time, Smith said younger members have a great deal to say and it’s important that the church listens.

Fields agrees. She said some of the members of the youth delegation have been part of the life of the conference for a while, but they have not had an opportunity to be noticed.

“This year, by adding to their number, they will be more visible and hopefully more vocal,” she said. “I hope we are prepared as a conference to welcome and hear this group.”

More information about the “From Generation to Generation” 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event is available on the conference Web site at


This article relates to the 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.