Last week I was privileged to be a part of the second annual gathering of National UMC Conference and Jurisdictional Youth Ministry staff persons. 41 folks met in Kansas City, Missouri at Saint Paul School of Theology to re-think what we do and who we are. Again this year, I have several positive things to report:
1) Youthwork is alive and well in the United Methodist Church! We heard about so many successful things that were happening to reach Young People with the Gospel. Although everybody expressed concern about shrinking budgets, these creative and principled leaders focused on what was working and how to grow to meet Young People where they were.
2) I am thankful for Dr. Claire Smith who runs the YouTheology program at Saint Paul School of Theology! She did a great job of leading our Bible Study and helping us go deeper to name where we saw God at work in the world. It helped me to re-think how I could help the Youth that I work with each week experience that same depth through Scripture study and story sharing.
3) I am especially thankful for Rev. Stephen Cady who is a PhD. Student at Princeton Theological Seminary and gets to hang out with great friends of the Youthworker Movement like Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean and Rev. Drew Dyson. Stephen helped us to look at Youthwork through the lens of Howard Thurman’s work in the book Jesus and the Disinherited. He asked us to think what it would be like to focus on Youth Ministry with the starting point “I am a child of God.”
4) I also felt challenged to be a healthier Youthworker. And I don’t just mean having good boundaries, I mean eating right, losing some weight, and exercising. But most importantly, Stephen encouraged us to consider keeping the 10 commandments. Right before God says not to kill people (because it is wrong) there is the commandment to keep the Sabbath (because it is right). You would think taking 1 day off out of 7 to reclaim health and wholeness while focusing on God would be an easy thing. For me, it is not. So my goal for the next year is to keep ALL 10 commandments.
5) We need each other! The reason this group has committed to come together each year is because they understand to a certain extent the highs and lows of their work at the conference and jurisdictional levels. These are great people! They are some of the best Youthworkers we have in the UMC! But, they know they can’t go it alone. So they meet and share and pray and study Scripture, because it is a good thing. They have already planned to meet again next year in the Northeastern Jurisdiction. Each of us in our own geographies could be meeting with a great group of Youthworkers at least monthly. We are each other’s best resource.
If you asked me what was the number one thing I walked away with from the 3 day meeting it is simply this: Connection. I am connected to great people. And so are you. Those great folks work in structures that help us in ways that we sometimes cannot understand. But these structures allow each of us in Youthwork to connect to God and other Youthworkers in healthy ways. I am glad to be a United Methodist!
God, thank you so much for our national staff people, our jurisdictional staff people, and our conference staff people. You have blessed us with their presence and ministry and I humbly ask that you bless them for the work that they do for Your Youth in Your United Methodist Church. Thank you. Amen.
Charles W. Harrison