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Despite fewer young people at conference, interest remains high

Despite fewer young people at conference, interest remains high

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Despite fewer young people at conference, interest remains high

June 17, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0868}

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

LAKELAND — The numbers of youth and young adults attending this year’s annual conference session were noticeably less than last year, but the much sought-after group wanted conference leaders to know their diminished numbers don’t necessarily mean interest from the demographic is waning.

Kelly Minter shares with members attending the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event what the Florida Conference Network of Ministries of Young People has achieved since its inception at last year’s annual conference and future plans to better connect young people in ministry and with the church. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0896.

More than 120 youth and young adults attended the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event, compared to the 27 youth and 59 young adults, including young adult clergy members, who attended this year, according to Kelly Minter.

Minter coordinates the Florida Conference Network of Ministries of Young People, which includes youth, young adults and adults working in ministry with young people. She is also youth minister at Ponte Vedra United Methodist Church.

“I know people are disappointed in the numbers this year, but we’re glad and thankful for the people who are here,” Minter said during the conference session, which took place May 29-31 at the Lakeland Center. “We’re always adding people, and that’s important.”

Getting acquainted

Minter and other members of the young people’s network organized both youth and young adult luncheons the first day of the conference session to orient the young people to the annual conference event and give them a chance to get to know each other.
Attending for the first time this year was Rachelle Murphy. The 20-year-old member of Murray Hill United Methodist Church said a scholarship from her church, which covered her board and food, and transportation expenses covered by the church made attending possible.
Murphy said she was interested in witnessing for herself what happens at the annual conference event and meeting other young people from throughout the conference, like17-year-old Eunice Kartwe-Bradley from Orlando.

Bradley is the daughter of the Rev. Margaret Kartwe-Bradley, pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Orlando. She has attended every annual conference event with her mother, but is most proud of her participation last year and this year because she served as a member of the session.

“It makes me feel good to know conference officials want us here,” she said. “The atmosphere is warm and welcome and just more open to young people. Maybe it was open the whole time and we couldn’t see it.”
Conflicting schedules

Although glad she was able to attend, 16-year-old Melissa Justice questioned why conference leaders scheduled annual conference so close to the end of the school year when many youth were in the midst of preparing for finals and other end of the year events.

Youth attend a luncheon during the first day of the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event that’s designed to help them become familiar with the workings of the conference session and get to know each other better. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0897.

“I just want conference leaders to be more intentional next year,” said Justice, a member of Avondale United Methodist Church in Jacksonville. “I think the turnout would have definitely been better if the timing was better.”
The Rev. David Mullins, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Callahan, said reaching out to young people is a “work in progress” for the conference and that it’s important for the conference to reach out to youth and young adults year after year.
“We were off to a good start last year,” he said. “It was real encouraging to see the intentional focus. The scheduling of conference this year just didn’t help the numbers, but I think if we keep on with the intentional outreach that gradually there will be a build-up in the numbers.”

Denvil Farley, a member at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, said the conference is moving in the right direction regarding youth and young adult participation, but agrees a more intentional effort each year is needed.
“This isn’t something that can be solved or fixed,” said Farley, who was a member from the North East District for a second year. “What we’ve been doing is a good step in the right direction. There is a place for everybody within every church. We just need to learn how to interact with each other.”

Greater inclusiveness, sensitivity to unchurched
The Rev. Michael Zdorow, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in North Port, said last year’s emphasis on getting more young people involved was impressive, but admitted he didn’t feel the same enthusiasm this year.

Corey Jones (left) and Denvil Farley report on what the young adult “table,” or resource group, of the Florida Conference Network of Ministries of Young People has accomplished since last year’s annual conference event and plans for the future. The network includes three tables, one each for youth, young adults and adults who work with young people. Jones and Farley co-chair the young adult table. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0898.

Zdorow said the church has to be more inclusive at all levels and suggested multi-generational worship as one solution, given, he says, that “heart-felt worship is part of God’s overall plan” for the church.
He says his church recently achieved greater inclusiveness of a variety of ages when youth, young adults and retirees attended a confirmation class together. Although the class was intended for youth preparing to be confirmed, it was of interest to others in the church so they also attended.
When the youth were confirmed, Zdorow said those who had participated in the class came forward to stand with the confirmands, showing their love and support. He said he is encouraged that the entire church can reach that level of inclusiveness.
Cindy Harris says the church also needs to realize many young adults are unchurched and the environment can be intimidating and frustrating for a first-time church attendee.

Harris attended the conference session as a young adult member from Conway United Methodist Church in Orlando. She also attended annual conference sessions with her parents when she was younger.

She said she wants the church to be more welcoming for people who didn’t grow up in church — a sensitivity she gained when an unchurched friend attended a worship service with her. Harris said her friend was not sure what to do when the congregation began reciting the Lord’s Prayer because it wasn’t printed in the bulletin and didn’t appear on a screen in the sanctuary.
“It’s easy for them to feel out of place,” she said. “It’s easy for them to get lost in ‘churchease,’ the jargon we speak, with all of our acronyms. We just take for granted that people know what we’re talking about when those we are trying to reach may not.”
While watching her 10-month-old daughter, Nyah, take her first steps at the luncheon for young adults, Mara Cullinane was thinking about the steps the conference can take to reach young people. Cullinane said she was glad to be attending the conference session as a member and remembers attending with her mother, the Rev. Debbie Mak, when conference wasn’t an exciting place for youth and young adults.

Young adults attend one of the workshops on the five practices of The Methodist Way held May 28, a day before the 2008 Florida Annual Conference officially convened, at the Lakeland Center. A total of 86 youth and young adults attended this year’s conference session, compared to 120 last year. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0899.

As the mother of young adults, Mak said she is excited to see the church promote inclusiveness of and openness to young people.

“This group has so much to offer,” said Mak, who serves as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Seffner. “They need to feel connected. This is a group that is in flux and transition. They are many times caught up in the world. They need a place where they can feel grounded, and I’m hopeful that many of them will find that the church is that place.”

Mak said she has been feeling a call from God to provide a place for young adults to connect in Seffner. She said there are a variety of possibilities — a coffee house-type environment offering Bible study, open microphone events, a place for mothers to gather with children in tow.
“We need something where we are,” Mak said. “I know there is something for young adults in the Temple Terrace area, but people also need to be able to find Jesus in Seffner.
“We need to have alternative experiences of worship. We need to realize it’s a different world and worship won’t look the same as it once did.”

Farley agrees. “Young adults are seeking a true sense of community. They want fellowship; they want to experience and share in genuine life experiences,” he said. “Many take a missional approach to church. They go out into the world in a variety of places because church doesn’t only take place in a building.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.