By: Karla Hovde
This week, delegates from every United Methodist conference in the North Central Jurisdiction (NCJ) will gather in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to elect new bishops and hold important conversations about how to build a more just and inclusive church. Among them will be about 20 young adults who have been elected as delegates by their conferences. These young adults share a common motivation to represent the voices of the youngest generations within the United Methodist Church (UMC). Meet some of these young adult delegates.
Fender was 19 years old when she was elected to serve as a lay delegate for the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. She is now 22. Fender said that the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference was a turning point for her.
“I realized that I could not continue to be a part of the UMC if the status quo continued,” Fender said. “For me it is so simple that as the church we are meant to be loving and inclusive. The idea of the UMC being a source of hate, exclusion, and bigotry deeply upset me, and I could not sit back and do nothing.”
She chooses to invest her time in the future of the denomination because, “as a connection, we have the ability to work with people from across the country and around the world in efforts to make the world a safer, more loving, and inclusive space.”
When she thinks of her classmates and friends of many different faiths, races, genders, and sexualities, she sees that they are equally beloved by God, capable of leadership, and deserving of loving relationships.
“I stay in the church because I don’t want to see my faith or communities of faith used as tools of violence against my loved ones.”
Fender wants to see new bishops who lead with compassion, listen to the people they lead, and are capable of balancing tradition with the need to adapt to be effective in a modern context.
“It is important that a new bishop is well educated, not just academically, but through time spent in leadership in the UMC and experiences within communities we are trying to reach,” she said.
Grigg is a 25-year-old lay delegate from Michigan. He believes in putting in the hard work toward making the UMC better.
“The work is going to take time and is not something that is going to be done overnight. With the UMC, we have a lot of history of change, and right now, we are in a season of change. Just because the UMC is not perfect, and probably will never be perfect, does not mean we leave it.”
Grigg wants new bishops to be leaders who include all voices—not just people who will agree with them, but those who will challenge their views.
“I want to see someone who will make the church an inclusive and safe space. Someone who will go beyond statements on social issues and go out and do the work they call others to do. I want to see bishops encouraging young people or people who have been forgotten to have a voice at tables where they have not yet been heard,” he said.
During the NCJ conference, Grigg looks forward to connecting with people across the jurisdiction. He finds joy in having a connectional church and working with those outside the Michigan Conference.
Lewis is 23 years old and a lay delegate from the East Ohio Conference. He is very active in the conference, including serving with the District Youth Council and the Conference Council on Youth Ministries, and counseling at Camp Wanake, an East Ohio United Methodist camp.
“Growing up in this amazing global denomination made me realize that I want to do everything in my power to ensure that my kids have the same love and connection that was provided to me growing up in the UMC,” said Lewis. “This desire led me to the calling to be a delegate to the General and Jurisdictional conferences to work to keep my beloved denomination in working condition for the future.”
Lewis feels a strong connection to his conference, the jurisdiction, and the UMC as a global church and the impacts it has on people’s lives.
“Whether this is through medical needs (hospitals), natural disasters (UMCOR), or financial support to get through any crisis, the UMC is always there to reach out a helping hand, and get people back on their feet,” he said. “I want to do everything in my power to keep this church, and our many branches of love and support intact, so that we may continue to support and save many lives.”
When he thinks of the characteristics he wants to see in a new bishop, he lists being an approachable and empathetic leader as the most important.
“Bishops are an integral part of the support system that our clergy, and even lay persons, need to be able to lean on for support and direction,” Lewis said. “With the proper leadership from our bishops, the UMC can accomplish anything for God.”
At age 25, Lundy is a law school student and a lay delegate from the Indiana Conference. He believes that when it comes to the future of episcopal leadership in the North Central Jurisdiction, it is critical that the voice of young people be present.
“Young members of the church are those that will live with the effects of major denominational decisions the longest,” Lundy said. “I was motivated to serve on the delegation to bring that voice to the table.”
Lundy chooses to invest his time and energy in the future of the UMC denomination because its doctrine is rooted in love and grace.
“Through this love and grace, I know that great strides towards inclusion and representation of all children of God are possible,” Lundy said.
Lundy looks forward to welcoming the rest of the North Central Jurisdiction to his home state!
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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