By: Christa Meland
In this “spiritual but not religious” landscape in which most Millennials are not attending church, two young adults from the Dakotas-Minnesota Area are not only deeply involved in their congregations but are voting delegates at the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis.
Walker Brault is a reserve delegate from Minnesota, and Matt Bader is a reserve delegate from the Dakotas. Both are lifelong United Methodists who also attended the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon—but they say it’s particularly exciting to be present for this historic gathering.
More than anything else, Bader hopes the denomination can find a way to stay together.
“What gives me hope is the promise that God has not given up on us, God is not done with us,” said Bader, 24, who said he’ll be okay with whatever decision delegates make about how to minister to LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Bader is a member of First UMC in Pierre, South Dakota and currently works as youth director at Albert Lea UMC in Minnesota.
Brault, meanwhile, is advocating for full inclusion for LGBTQ individuals and would like to see the body vote for the Simple Plan or the One Church Plan.
“But I hope that we can remember that we are still all United Methodists and that we are all working for what we think is best for the church and for the people within our church and our communities,” said Brault, 21, a senior at Hamline University in St. Paul. He is a member of Wesley UMC in Winona and attending Hamline Church while in school. “And while we might prioritize social justice and scripture differently, they are still both important for everyone who’s here.”
While “Christian” is an increasingly unpopular label among people in their generation, both Bader and Brault say that doesn’t bother them or make them question or doubt their own faith.
Bader noted that he’s always surrounded himself with friends who are equally committed to their faith, but it is discouraging to hear about other young people who have had negative experiences with church.
Brault acknowledges that there are things about The United Methodist Church that have likely turned some people off—for example, the ongoing debate about how to minister to LGBTQ people and few opportunities for young people to serve in leadership roles. But there are many positive things about the church too, and those cannot be discounted.
“Every social institution that we have as a society is going to have both positives and negatives,” he said. “I personally get a lot out of the community I’m in—both at the local church as well as through my connections on the broader church level. Those relationships are really what keeps me going and pushing to make our connection more inclusive.”
The relationships that Bader has formed are one of the things he most values about The United Methodist Church as well.
“My church friends are the most important friends I have,” he said. “And my friendships are diverse and global. I love looking at the map and seeing I have friends in England, Africa, and the Philippines.”
Both Bader and Brault said the people are also what gives them hope for the future of the church.
“What gives me hope is being with friends who I know are also committed to the church even if it looks different going forward,” Bader said.
Brault is encouraged to see young people not only engaged in the life of the church but thinking about how to do church differently in order to reach new people.
“It’s exciting that they’re thinking about what church will look like in the future and being okay with it being radically different than what it is today,” he said. “We’ve become really comfortable with the way church is now. We’ve kind of lost that Methodist fire that the start of the movement had.”
Brault said appealing to young people has less to do with worship style and more to do with giving young people space to help guide where the church is going.
“Young people want to belong,” said Bader. “They want to feel that they are cared for and not just a token young person. They want a place where they can grow, where they can serve, where they can be involved.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church