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Six young people to address General Conference

Six young United Methodists will craft the first-ever young people's address for the 2008 General Conference. They are (clockwise from left) Jason Rathod, Kira Volkova, Matt Lockett, Becca Farnum, the Rev. Anne Rigo and Andrew Craig.
A UMNS photo by Ronny Perry.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

Aug. 14, 2007

Six United Methodists ranging in age from 15 to 28 have been chosen to work together to develop and deliver the first Young People's Address at the 2008 General Conference.

The speakers – five from the United States and one from Russia – will give a 45-minute presentation on the concerns, hopes and dreams of young people in The United Methodist Church.

They are Becca Farnum, 17, of Mount Pleasant, Mich.; Kira Volkova, 24, of Kirov, Russia; the Rev. Anne Rigo, 28, of Grand Junction, Colo.; Andrew Craig, 15, of Denver; Matt Lockett, 20, of Seattle; and Jason Rathod, 23, of Hastings, Neb.

"All six have different voices and gifts, and General Conference will be richer," said Jay Clark, a staff member of the United Methodist Division on Ministries with Young People at the churchwide Board of Discipleship.

The six were selected from 37 individuals and youth groups that submitted video related to youth and young adult issues in the church.

The presentation will be the first time that a Young People's Address has been on the agenda of General Conference, the denomination's top legislative assembly. Historically, the worldwide gathering has included only an Episcopal Address by a bishop and a Laity Address by a layperson.

The 2004 General Conference affirmed the value of the voices of youth and young adults by voting overwhelmingly to add a Young People's Address to the agenda for 2008. The 2004 conference also approved creation of the Division on Ministries with Young People.

General Conference, which meets every four years, will convene April 22-May 2, 2008, in Fort Worth, Texas. It is the only entity that speaks for The United Methodist Church.

Leaders for the future

Craig, the youngest of the six and a member of Park Hill United Methodist Church in Denver, hopes the church hears a message "that they are not only being called to act but that they are being called to interact, too," with both young and old "because we are all Christians."

"I would like for us to call the community back together to live out our core values on social justice, evangelism and promoting the general good,"
-Jason Rathod, 23

Rigo, the oldest of the six and an associate pastor of First United Methodist Church in Grand Junction, Colo., said it is important for General Conference to understand that young people include more than teenagers. "I think the church likes to focus on teenagers and youth groups but does not know how to transition with youth into college and beyond college," she said.

According to an Aug. 6 article in USA Today, about one in four Protestant young people have left the church.

Based on a survey by Lifeway Research of Protestants between the ages of 18 to 30, the article reports that seven in 10 who attended church regularly in high school had quit attending by age 23. Thirty-four percent had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30.

Among dropouts, 97 percent cited life changes such as a move. Fifty-eight percent were unhappy with the people or pastor at church, and 52 percent had religious, ethical or political reasons for quitting.

Crafting a message

The six speakers began crafting their message while meeting Aug. 5-7 in Nashville, Tenn., with staff of the Division on Ministries with Young People.

Group members are proficient in technology, dancing, singing, creative writing, preaching, acting, video, photography and legislation. While they do not yet know what the address will look like, they say it will be more than talking in front of a podium for 45 minutes.

They agree that it will be multilayered with multimedia. It will reflect what it means to be a multigenerational church and possibly will show how six people from different backgrounds are connected to one another.

"We will be trying to break away from the 'here's the church, here's the youth' and going more for a more intergenerational piece," said Farnum, a member of First United Methodist Church in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., and also a youth delegate to General Conference from the West Michigan Annual Conference. "Something new needs to be done," she said, noting that youth and young adult voices from across the globe need to be included.

Rathod, a member of Faith United Methodist Church in Kearney, Neb., said the denomination "has a rich legacy of promoting faith and social justice and there are some areas where we are not living up to those ideals.

"I would like for us to call the community back together to live out our core values on social justice, evangelism and promoting the general good," he said.

Rigo agrees. She said it is natural for young adults to call the church to action, but the concept of risking community "asks us to go beyond ourselves or our opinions or our theologies to see each other as Christians, to listen to each other and really want the relationship that comes with being a part of a community."

The church and young people

Lockett said it is a daunting task to try to speak in behalf of so many young United Methodists. "We have this great responsibility on us to represent a group of people that we ourselves don't all represent," said Lockett, a member of Fairwood United Methodist Church in Seattle.

"All six have different voices and gifts, and General Conference will be richer."
-Jay Clark

Asked how The United Methodist Church could be more inclusive of youth and young adults, Volkova said the United Methodist Church in Russia speaks a lot about young people but "sometimes things do not go beyond talking but remain at this level."

A candidate for ordained ministry and member of Kirov United Methodist Church, Volkova seeks more opportunities for ministries with young people and for the church "to take our young people more seriously."

She also hopes that the church would more fully live into its global nature. "The situation in the church now is old people trying to be global but who many times fail. Young people are flexible and willing to listen to one another."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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