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United Methodist students hone leadership skills, develop connections

 


United Methodist students hone leadership skills, develop connections

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown

LaSheena Simmons, Grambling State University, plants flowers at a park in Jackson, Miss.

June 2, 2005

By Vicki Brown*

JACKSON, Miss. (UMNS)--Students made global and local connections exploring the diversity of the United Methodist Church as they considered their own voice within the church at Student Forum 2005.

"The main thing for me is that it's opened my eyes to how many diverse people make up the (United) Methodist Church and expanded my ideas about my faith and how I do ministry,'' Bryana Clover, a student at Adrian (Mich.) College, said of the May 27-29 conference at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss.

The theme of the Memorial Day weekend gathering, "Thy Kin-dom Come, Becoming the Body of Christ," spoke to connections as some 375 students, campus ministers, young seminarians, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry staff, and workshop leaders worshipped, sang, prayed, and considered resolutions introduced by delegates to the conference of the United Methodist Student Movement.

The Rev. Luther Felder, director of the Board of Higher Education and Ministries' Campus Ministry Section, said Student Forum gives young adults within the church the opportunity to decide what issues are important to them and voice their opinions on those issues. The Student Forum of the United Methodist Student Movement is an annual representative leadership development conference for college and university students.

"I think the aim is to take these young people and develop their leadership skills and enable them to go to annual conference and jurisdictional meetings and provide strong leadership in many important places," Felder said.

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, episcopal leader of the Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference, welcomed the students to the state at the May 27 opening plenary session. "You are God's people and you've embraced leadership," she said in her remarks.

Dayton Edmonds, a Native-American storyteller, artist and musician, told a story of an Oklahoma revival at which a man kept trying to offer gifts, such as shirts, blankets, and his best horses, only to be repeatedly told "That's not enough." It was only when the man offered to give himself to God that he was told, "That is all that God wants," Edmonds said.

Another speaker, the Rev. Rebekah Miles, associate professor of ethics at Perkins School of Theology, Dallas, told forum participants that humans are "hardwired to connect," that everyone has a deep need for the "Kin-dom."

Workshops focused on subjects such as finding God in pop culture, creating a strong campus ministry, dating and faith and social justice.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown

Arlyn Rusche of South Dakota State University weeds an herb bed at Hospice Ministries as a community outreach project.

A highlight of the 2005 Student Forum occurred May 28 when students spread out across the city at community outreach projects ranging from a bus tour of civil rights history in the Jackson, Miss., area to working in the gardens at Hospice Ministries, an ecumenical program that works with terminally ill people.

Among the resolutions and amendments approved by two-thirds of the voting delegates was an amendment to the UMSM's constitution that allows each annual conference of the United Methodist Church to send an unlimited number of students to Student Forum. Each conference will designate just three voting delegates and six alternate delegates. In the past, unlimited attendance was only allowed every fourth year.

Other legislative action included a call to fight AIDS by pushing the U.S. government to appropriate $1 billion to fighting the disease worldwide in 2005.

Both Brad Laurvick, the outgoing chairman of the steering committee, which organizes the conference, and Ana Kelsey-Powell, the new chairwoman of the steering committee, said expanding attendance means the United Methodist Student Movement can realize its true potential for giving voice to the concerns of young adults in the United Methodist Church.

And, more students can experience the power of gathering with so many people of faith and getting to know them personally, Laurvick said.

"The first time I came to Student Forum, it was the highest spiritual plane I had ever experienced. I was on fire,'' Laurvick said.

While one of her goals is growth in numbers, Powell adds the UMSM must also continue to have spiritual growth.

Students said workshops helped them resolve questions about their own future.

"I kind of came away with a better understanding of myself,'' said Kori Mosakowski, 20, a student at the University of Alabama. "I just really came here wanting God to answer my questions about my career.''

Mosakowski said that after attending a workshop about service, she has decided to enter the US2 mission program, a mission service and leadership development opportunity for young adults. The US-2 Program of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries provides students with service opportunities in ministries of social justice in community centers, churches, colleges and grassroots organizations across the country. Many of these agencies are affiliated with the United Methodist Church and make a commitment to mentoring young adults who are discerning God's call.

The Rev. Suzanne Ellis, campus minister at Marshall University in Huntingdon, W.Va., said the conference not only helps the students develop leadership skills, it also helps them learn how the church works as a legislative body.

"They realize they can have a voice,'' Ellis said.

Although many students were excited about the diversity of the conference, one disappointment was that students from Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were unable to get visas to attend.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown

Anna Margaret Rupert of Shippensburg University puts her handprint on an altar cloth used for worship services at Student Forum 2005.

The Rev. Kalamba Kilumba, campus minister at Texas' Prairie View A&M University, said part of the problem was that the American embassy in Liberia is closed, so students had to go to another country to apply for visas. Also, he said it is harder to get visas because of Homeland Security restrictions.

Victor Leon Cyrus-Franklin, a seminarian at Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, and one of the event's keynote speakers, was a member of the UMSM for five years and attended five Student Forums.

He reminded students at the May 29 closing worship service that being part of a family can be hard, whether you don't get along with relatives in your biological family or with people of differing political views in the family of your fellow U.S. citizens.

"But God has called us to be in relationship with each other," he said. "Through the (United Methodist) Student Movement, God has put me in relationship with Native Americans, Latinos, Koreans.

"God brought me here and put me in relationship with people I didn't know existed.''

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

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

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