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Students celebrate year of jubilee at annual event

Drummers and percussionists enliven worship at Student Forum, the national student leadership conference sponsored by the United Methodist Student Movement and the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. More than 400 college students attended the May 24-27 at the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Wash. UMNS photos by Vicki Brown.

By Vicki Brown*
June 15, 2007 | TACOMA, Wash. (UMNS)     

More than 400 students celebrated a year of jubilee during a national leadership forum that included a hunger banquet, worship services, workshops, service projects and holy conferencing on human sexuality.

"We wanted to remember our purpose as an event that started as a leadership conference. I think we kind of brought Student Forum back to its roots," said Christine Seymour, chairperson of the United Methodist Student Movement Steering Committee. The committee organizes the event with staff assistance and financial support from the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

With the theme of "Break forth, shine like the new day," from Isaiah 58:1-12, the forum took a year off from legislation - a year of jubilee. The May 24-27 event marked the 20th anniversary of the formation of the current United Methodist Student Movement.

"We really tried to look at things that people could take back to their campus ministries and their churches, such as the hunger banquet and workshops on social justice ministries," Seymour said. "With holy conferencing, we wanted to focus on how we talk to each other."

The holy conferencing, which took place during private, small-group sessions, was aimed at modeling a way to engage controversial topics effectively, said Caleb Parker, a steering committee member who worked on the sessions. Before attending the sessions, the students heard a brief presentation on sexuality and the church.

"We hope that students can take this model of discussion back to their churches or Wesley Foundations and promote an atmosphere of peace and respect during discussions of controversial topics," he said.

Will Green of Hendrix College, Conway, Ark., served as a small-group leader for the holy conferencing on human sexuality.

"People were passionate, but it was really conversational," he said. "They were both speaking and listening, willing to hear different points of view, instead of just speaking and not listening."

Giving students a voice

Student Forum, established in 1989, is an annual national leadership development conference for college and university students. Students traditionally have worked on legislation for General Conference as part of the event. Resolutions and petitions adopted during this four-year period as positions of the United Methodist Student Movement will be taken to General Conference next year, said the Rev. Meg Lassiat, a staff member of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

General Conference, which will meet next spring in Fort Worth, Texas, is the top legislative body of The United Methodist Church.

“With holy conferencing, we wanted to focus on how we talk to each other.”–Christine Seymour, Chairperson, United Methodist Student Movement Steering Committee

Lassiat said she expects that Student Forum will be revamped each year to respond to the constantly changing needs of college students. She was pleased with the larger attendance and the renewed focus on leadership.

"We will be doing legislation again, but we will look at how to have legislation without having it dominate the event," Lassiat said. "Student Forum gives college students a voice in the denomination, and we want to make that voice heard in the most effective way."

Marco De La Garza, a student from the University of Texas-Pan American, liked the fact that there was no legislation at this year's forum event. "The past two years I felt like there was tension," he said.

Katie Parrish, a student from Penn State, University Park, Pa., agreed. "This year, it's been more about meeting people and getting to know them, making connections. Before, most of the conversation revolved around legislation."

Geraldine Truog of Clarion (Pa.) University garnered useful ideas about creative worship that she plans to take back to her church.

"You don't have to just stand there singing a slow hymn. It's great to be with people who are excited about worship and faith," she said. She was particularly impressed by the volunteer drummers at the May 25 evening service, she said.

'God is with you'

Sarah Bakersman sorts food at a local food pantry.

At the opening worship service, the Rev. Telley Gadson, pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Sumter, S.C., told students that after a tragedy such as the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech, people ask, "Where were you, God?" 

"The answer is that God is right here with you, walking through the pain," Gadson said.

She told the students that "God was calling them to rock the boats, to shake up the status quo."

The May 25 "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" worship service opened with volunteer drummers pounding a rhythmic beat on a variety of drums.

Marcia McFee, a consultant on worship and the arts, told the students she was happy as a professional dancer when she got "THE CALL!"

"How do we get unstuck from the places that we are? Sometimes we get to take some time out and listen and reflect, listen to God. Sometimes we talk to others, and sometimes we find ourselves on the mountaintop," she said, demonstrating by standing on a table.

"From there, the edge looks more like the thrill of discovery than the fear of falling," she said.

During a mission emphasis May 25, students scattered around Tacoma for community outreach. They sorted cans at food pantries, worked at an organic community garden, a wetlands restoration area and a local United Methodist church, and did other service projects.

Getting a new perspective

Workshops this year covered such topics as writing General Conference resolutions or petitions, starting a social justice ministry on campus, living with a roommate of a different religion and going through the ordination process.

Students relax during a lunch break.

At the hunger banquet, students learned about the scope of world hunger and what they can do about it, even as they got a vivid demonstration of hunger.

Participants were divided into three different groups. The smallest group, representing the richest people in the world, ate a full meal and could chose what they wanted, while the second group had seats but received much less food.

The largest group, representing the world's poorest, had only a bowl of rice and some water and had to sit on the floor, if there was room.

"I have studied poverty and taken mission trips, but that experience of someone just giving me a bowl of rice and some water and saying 'this is your meal' really put it in perspective for me," Parker said.

Information on leadership opportunities for young people in The United Methodist Church is available at www.umsm.orgwww.umsm.org/studentforum, and www.ExploreCalling.org .

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org .

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