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Students advised to cast nets into deep water, join church

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A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown

Participants register for the Student Forum 2006 at Adrian (Mich.) College.
June 1, 2006

By Vicki Brown*

ADRIAN, Mich. (UMNS) — A United Methodist bishop advised college students attending an annual leadership development gathering that to be true disciples of Christ, they must allow Jesus to use “your boat and your car and your mind and your body and your strength to advance the Kingdom of God.”

Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton, leader of the denomination’s Michigan Area, provided this advice to more than 350 United Methodist students at the opening worship of Student Forum 2006 on the campus of church-related Adrian College May 25-28.

The theme of the student-organized gathering — “True Disciples: Learning to Fish” — comes from Luke 5:1-11, in which Jesus tells Simon Peter to cast his nets “into the deep water.” After the nets are full of fish, Jesus tells Simon Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Keaton talked about who could be true disciples, while the Bible study leader, the Rev. Jan Rivero, told students where to cast their nets. The Rev. Ken Bedell, a staff member of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, summed it up by telling the students what God wanted from true disciples.

After Simon Peter cast his nets and beheld the miracle of the full catch, he had to look at Jesus in a different way, Keaton said.

“That may be what this forum is about,” the bishop said. “Simon, because of this miracle, had to think that this is God. Because they found a way to do what Jesus asked them to do, God helped them find a way.

“When you go home from Student Forum, will people be convinced that you are converted?” he asked.

Keaton invited any students who felt God had called them to think seriously about the ministry to come down to the front. About 25 did so. Keaton told them he wanted to look in their faces so that “we can pray that you go where God is leading.”


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A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown

Christine Seymour (left) and Linda Furtado review the opening worship music.

Students at the leadership development event attended workshops, worshipped and approved six resolutions. Resolutions called for “freedom from an unjust war in Iraq” and nonviolent intervention to end genocide in Sudan. Another criticized Judicial Council Decision 1032, which upheld the right of a pastor who excluded a homosexual from church membership, saying that the decision deprived lay people of their rights, removed the church’s constitutional guarantee of open membership (found in Paragraph 4, Article IV, 2004 Book of Discipline), and undermined the authority of the episcopacy and the district superintendent. An additional resolution called on the Judicial Council to reverse Decision 1032 and urged the Council of Bishops to move to create an inclusive church.

Rivero, the United Methodist campus minister at the Wesley Campus Ministry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, reminded students that Methodism founder John Wesley was excluded from his own Church of England and then went to the cotton fields of Georgia and the mining towns of England to spread the gospel.

“It makes me wonder, if we’re not getting kicked out of our church, are we doing our job?” she said. Fishing in “the deep water” means venturing out among the immigrants who are crossing U.S. borders in search of a decent wage, those held hostage by fear since Sept. 11, 2001, or children forced to work in sweatshops, she said.

“There’s no getting around this message. Repentance and forgiveness are to be proclaimed to all nations,” she said. “Cast your nets where? Everywhere!”

Faith, hope, love

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A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown

Bishop Jonathan Keaton chats with the Rev. Charlene Zuill, director of the Wesley Foundation at University of Hawaii.

Bedell, preaching during the closing worship service, told students that to be true disciples they must deny the part of themselves that does not come from God — the desire for wealth, fame, nationalism and white privilege. Instead, they should focus on what God has put into them.

“Faith, hope, and love are the stuff that God has put into you,” he said. “The message Jesus brought is left entirely in your hands — to share it, to make sure that it is faithful to all Jesus says.”

Bedell invited anyone who was interested in joining the United Methodist Church to come forward. Two people responded. Michelle Chubinksi, a student at Central Michigan University, had earlier expressed interest in joining the church through a campus ministry and came to the closing worship specifically to do that, Bedell said. As she came forward, so did John Gore, a Michigan State University student.

Christine Seymour, a student at Minnesota State University-Mankato and the new chairperson of the United Methodist Student Movement Steering Committee, said she thought Student Forum 2006 lived up to the goal of being totally student-run. “We really achieved that goal, especially with the opening and closing worship services,” Seymour said. The United Methodist Student Movement organizes the annual Student Forum.

She added that the resolutions allow students to have a voice in the church. But for her, once of the biggest benefits during her three years on the steering committee has been meeting other students from around the country.

Building a network

The Young Adult Seminarians Network, a network of seminarians under the age of 35, also met at Adrian College. The group, formed in 2004, led workshops and provided a Sabbath room for students who wanted quiet time during the event.

“We are trying to build an effective network, solidify who we are as United Methodists. We want to be a place where people can come to search and network,” said Missy Meyers, a recent United Theological Seminary graduate who is the network president.

Meeting during Student Forum has helped do that, since the seminarians have been able to connect with young people who are considering ordained ministry, Meyers said.

The Rev. Luther Felder, director of the campus ministry section at Higher Education and Ministry, said the event is valuable for developing young leaders for the church.

“This conference gives us opportunities to help expose students to the chance to make decisions. It gives young people the opportunity to offer their own assessment of the issues of the day. It gives them a voice that will be heard by the church as they go back to their annual conference,” Felder said.

The steering committee announced that the 2007 Student Forum will be at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.

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

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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