By: Christa Meland
“I pray for a church that has a place for me.” One of the Minnesota Conference’s Confirmation students offered up that powerful, future-oriented prayer at a statewide gathering last weekend.
Registration for this year’s annual conference session will open soon—and this gathering offers a key opportunity to invite youth and young adults to the table to dream, discuss, and discern with fellow United Methodists. It is one way to show them that the church does indeed have a place for them.
Annual conference session was pushed back to June this year so that youth and young adults would be out of school and could participate. It was also structured so as to engage young people in new ways, including through open-space conversations about social justice issues, blessing the community, and a celebration in the park.
As you plan for annual conference, explore how you can make a place for the youth and young adults from your congregation. Who can you invite to attend conference, either as a member or a visitor?
Here are two creative approaches that a church and a district employed to welcome young people to the table and provide a place for them:
Elk River UMC mentor and mentee
As Elk River United Methodist Church was looking ahead to the 2016 annual conference session, Pastor Jim Beard and other church leaders wondered how they could involve multiple generations within their congregation.
“You need a long-term member who can keep bringing news of conference to the congregation throughout the whole year, but you also need a young person to be there and start absorbing all this excitement,” he said.
So Elk River UMC decided to bring both. Jeneyene Sitts, a longtime member and retiree, will return to annual conference for the fourth or fifth time as the church’s designated member. But leaders also invited a college student who they thought would enjoy seeing how the church functions, would have some interest in the legislative process, and is part of an active family within the church.
The idea is that Sitts will mentor the young woman, who’s never before been to annual conference and will go as a visitor. Both Sitts and Beard say giving youth and young adults these types of opportunities could spur deeper involvement within the church.
“I would like her to be on fire for Christ when she leaves annual conference,” said Sitts. “I would like her to take away that the Methodist Church is connectional, that what we’re doing is important, and that she wants to be a part of it and knows she can make a difference in it.”
What youth or young adult from your congregation can you invite to annual conference, and who can mentor that person as they take in this new experience?
North Star District equalization members
The first time North Star District Superintendent Mark Miller attended annual conference session was when he was in college and went as an equalization member. (Equalization is the process through which the conference balances the number of voting lay people with the number of voting clergy people.)
“It was important in helping me to hear my call,” said Miller. “As I was wrestling with ‘Is God calling me to do this with my life?’ the conversations I had helped me to see that this is where I belonged and…that there really was a place here for me. It was the first time I could envision myself in the annual conference body.”
This year, each district will select about 15 people to send as equalization members, and all of them hope to send young people.
Miller would love for other youth and young adults to have an experience similar to his own. The North Star District is not only seeking out young people to be equalization members but will pay the registration fee for anyone under age 30—a significant benefit since equalization members typically pay their own way.
Miller has asked for youth and young adult nominations from churches in his district, and many have already come in.
What youth or young adult from your congregation could you recommend to your district superintendent as an equalization member?
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church