News Archives

Young adult urges church to talk, listen to youth

10/3/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

This report is a sidebar to story #469. A photograph is available.

A UMNS-UMC.org Report By Kathy L. Gilbert*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Jay Williams speaks to Ciona Rouse during a presentation at Convo 2003. Held every two years, Convo is a youth-led national event for United Methodists ages 12 to 18. “Youth have a vision and a voice that needs to be nurtured and recognized but that doesn’t need to be separated off from the rest of the congregation,” he says. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert. Photo number 03-319, Accompanies UMNS #471, 10/1/03
Jay Williams stands before 9,000 of his peers and "triple-dog dares" them to transform the church.

"What if 9,000 youth went back to their local congregations excited and renewed and became movers and shakers in their local communities?" he asks. "What if 9,000 youth demanded to be respected and loved not tomorrow but today?

"I dream of a church that does not change with the times but changes the times," he says as the crowd roars its approval.

Williams' forum is Youth 2003, an international event held every four years by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

"The youth have had a mountaintop experience here," Williams says after his speech. "That can be so easily eroded when you step back into your local church. We have been telling the youth to go back to their church and change the world, but as soon as you hit the road back home, somebody is going to tell you (that) you haven't been around long enough."

Williams, however, has indeed been around. When he was 19, he served on a delegation that bought freedom for more than 4,000 slaves in Sudan. Now 22, the United Methodist from Buffalo, N.Y., is a Western New York Annual Conference delegate to the 2004 General Conference. He also serves on the General Council on Ministries and is co-chairperson of the Shared Mission Focus on Young People. He joined Merrill Lynch as an analyst this year after graduating from Harvard University.

"Youth are full members, full participants in the life of the church once they become confirmed," he says.

"Youth have a vision and a voice that needs to be nurtured and recognized but that doesn't need to be separated off from the rest of the congregation."

Local churches often make the mistake of separating youth from the rest of the congregation, Williams says.

Churches think they are doing the right thing by giving youth a more dynamic worship service, when all of the worship services need to be livened up, he says.

"Go to youth and ask them to be part of the planning of worship without making them feel like they are being done a favor or that the church owes them something but that they are respected as full members."

One of the biggest problems for youth is the feeling they are not heard or seen, he says. He notes that he has been to many worship services that were not welcoming to youth.

"What is the church going to do differently to make community and environment feel like home?" he wonders aloud.

Williams admits it is easy for youth to get discouraged and think the church really doesn't care.

However, he says, "the church does care." He cites examples, such as July's Youth 2003 event in Knoxville, Tenn. The church is willing to dedicate resources to youth ministry, he says.

"The next step is the attitude. That is what has the most meaning for youth."

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*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service.

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