Even though she had grown up in The United Methodist Church, attended Sunday school, church camp and the Wesley Foundation at Florida State University and is a preacher’s kid, Samantha Aupperlee wasn’t sure what her next step should be when she graduated from college.
She worked some different jobs and lived at home like so many other young people. She was hoping to find her calling, but didn’t know how.
Luckily for her, the Young Adult Missional Movement ministry opened its doors in 2014, and she was able to join it as one of the pioneer members. After two years, Aupperlee found her place in the world, and participation in the program was a big part of the 27-year-old’s success story.
|From left to right: Participants Ruth Berlus, Samantha Aupperlee, Hillary Tully and Britney Cott.|
“Today, I would say to anyone, if you need some help finding your way, and if you want to serve and connect with others, this program is flexible,” Aupperlee said. “The key is to be flexible and trust God. We, as the first year (participants), helped shape this program.” Aupperlee’s mother is Rev. Patricia Aupperlee, senior pastor of First UMC, Pahokee, and Canal Point.
The Young Adult Missional Movement (YAMM) grew out of the Florida Conference’s brainstorming about how to keep young people connected to the church, according to Clarke Campbell-Evans, director of Missional Engagement.
“We felt we could tap into the strong emphasis the church was having in youth ministries at the extensive camping facilities and campus ministries…then hold on to young adults and help them get a vocational sense of what God is calling them to do,” Campbell-Evans said.
YAMM organizes small groups (usually about six) of young people in the 19 to 30 age range who live together in a covenant family group, sharing not only their living quarters, but also their vocational experiences and spiritual development. The groups are of different races and backgrounds, and the gender ratio is about two to one, female to male.
What they all have in common is the thirst to discern who God is calling them to be and the desire to serve, explained Heidi Aspinwall, director of the program.
Locations have included Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, Immokalee, St. Petersburg, Palm Beach, Gainesville and Pahokee/Belle Glade. They have been housed in local church parsonages, a Habitat for Humanity house and some rentals. They have worked or interned at local churches, at charities and local businesses. They have various levels of schooling and experience.
The first year there were 14 young adults in three houses located in three different conference districts. In the 2015-16 year, there were 16 members in four houses. The numbers of both houses and participants have grown with plans for six houses and 24 participants beginning this September.
“Communal living is a part of the whole experience,” Campbell-Evans said. “It is a very intentional part of the process. Each house has a covenant where they eat at least one meal a week together, have a book that they all read and reflect on and experience mutual accountability and the discovery process.”
As with any start up, there have been challenges over the last two years, but the growing pains have led to accomplished goals.
“Living together is not always easy, but the art of forming a community has helped these young people grow in their faith and made a difference in their lives,” Campbell-Evans said. “It has also offered some a bridge from college to adulthood.”
The number of applicants has increased each year as the word has spread. The YAMM report for the Florida Annual Conference meeting in June included a video telling the program’s story, and the $3,908 proceeds from the annual AC 5K run supported YAMM.
As this fall’s houses fill with some new members, as well as returning participants, grateful program “graduate” Aupperlee will be happily returning to Tuskawilla UMC in Casselberry, the church where she interned. Over the past two years while she lived in a house near downtown Orlando, she wore a lot of hats at the church, helping with the children’s ministry, the food bank and administrative duties. Now she will be a full-time staff member, splitting her time between the role of children’s director and office administrator.
“I have grown to love this church,” she said.
The idea is not to nail down future preachers, Campbell-Evans said, although some will likely go on to theology school and become pastors. “We’re offering a strategy for leaders of the church, whether it is work in the church, in the community as lay leaders or other vocational choices in service,” he said.
A partnership with the General Board of Global Ministries provided opportunities for participants from outside Florida to commit to the living/working program for two years, extending its outreach even greater than originally envisioned, according to Aspinwall.
As of the first week in August, Aspinwall was not only thinking about the philosophy and goals of the program, but also how she was going to make sure each of the six houses had enough beds and bedding, not to mention the hundreds of other details associated with moving young adults.
“We’re still really developing this program, helping these young people mature in their faith and at the same time finding ways our churches can use them,” Aspinwall said. “Many of these young people don’t have a safety net of family who can help them financially. They may be volunteering all the time and have the heart for missions, but they also need health insurance, a place to live, cell phones and transportation.”
YAMM provides for these needs, and also places the young adults in service oriented opportunities in local churches and charities. Evaluations at regular intervals are part of the program, so both participants and leaders can monitor how the program is working. Evaluations also identify what other skills and experiences the young people need to succeed once they exit the program, Aspinwall said.
Click here for more information about the YAMM program.
Anne Dukes is the interim managing editor for the Florida Conference.