Ask Heidi Aspinwall about young adults and their desire to live in Christian service and she speaks passionately and without hesitation about the ministry she has been immersed in for close to two decades.
As the new director of Young Adult Missional Movement for the Florida Conference and a professional with her share of accolades, including a President's Volunteer Service Award, she shares stories with the conviction of someone who knows that the right mission program can change young adult lives. After all, what was to be a one-year mission in Miami changed hers.
“One year turned into two years. It turned into three years. It's turned into 18 years,” said Aspinwall, who left a corporate position in Tennessee to go to Miami those many years ago.
“So it's exciting to come full circle and to be ... launching a young adult program, which is exactly what it was that changed my life to begin with and brought me to ministry.”
“We have young adults that are graduating. They want to serve. They want more opportunities,” Aspinwall said. “They want something, a year that they can commit to (which) doesn't seem as foreboding as two or three years.”
She highlighted the desire of young adults to serve cross-culturally as well as in their home communities. YAMM is designed to be diverse, working with people from all ethnic backgrounds.
Aspinwall joined the Florida Conference in May after 12 years with DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection), a faith-based network of urban service learning programs that young adults can participate in for time periods ranging from a weekend to a year. Aspinwall held positions that included Miami city director, national director for volunteers and associate executive director.
“Heidi gets things done. She is organized, creative and motivated. I was always confident that she would complete any task she was assigned and that it would be done well,” wrote Robert Gray, director of youth ministries for First UMC, Coral Gables, in a letter recommending Aspinwall for the YAMM position.
The pastor of Homestead Mennonite Church and a former DOOR board member, Rick Lee, praised her “wisdom, patience, grace and tenacity.”
Recommendations like these helped Aspinwall secure the directorship, said Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, director of Missional Engagement for the Florida Conference, who will be overseeing the new young adult movement.
“Heidi’s vast experience of working with young adult missional programs with the Presbyterians and Mennonites over the last 18 years was the biggest stand-out,” Campbell-Evans said in an email to Florida Conference Connection.
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“Her stellar recommendations that came from those with whom she had worked and her energetic and knowledgeable leadership in our design team were all important factors. “
Aspinwall said she sensed the need for a program like the Young Adult Missional Movement while she was working for DOOR.
“My work with DOOR had me placing young adults coming through the Presbyterian and Mennonite churches in service programs,” Aspinwall recalled.
“Most of my placements were United Methodist-related, and so for years I've been wondering where are the United Methodist young adults to serve in these Methodist-related positions?
“I've been saying that out loud for a lot of years, so I was very excited with someone saying, 'Well, we're thinking of launching a program that would help to give Methodist young adults an opportunity to enter mission service here in Florida.'
“So, yeah, I signed up as soon as I could. I was very excited about that very possibility.”
Aspinwall also gets excited about understanding the different ways young adults engage with the church and society and passionately shares questions and insights from generational research.
She points out that many Methodist young adults already are engaged in community projects and supportive living situations without the structure provided by YAMM, and she wants to make sure that those efforts are recognized, honored and supported.
“They've already found a way to do it. They didn’t ask permission. They didn't fill out an application,” she said. “They are living this missional life. I hope we can identify and coordinate and ...bring those folks together.”
The ways young adults engage with church may not be immediately recognizable by older generations, who value church attendance, Aspinwall said. She said it's important for people to recognize that “young adults are the future of the church, but they are the church right now.”
Organizers are taking advantage of what Aspinwall has described as the overwhelming feeling from conference members that this is the perfect time for an initiative like YAMM to be launched.
“It's exciting,” Aspinwall said. “Some folks on the committee felt like they had never been a part of a committee that moved so fast.”
-- Karen L. Shaw is a freelance writer based in Palm Harbor.