Annual conferences hone skills of young leaders
July 19, 2005
A UMNS photo by Paul Hilton
The California-Nevada youth delegation presents a $5,000 offering for the Bishop's Initiative on Children and Poverty.
A UMNS Feature
By Allison Scahill*
United Methodist annual
conferences in the United States are taking a variety of approaches to
enhancing the leadership skills of the denomination’s younger members.
In some of the church’s
annual regional meetings, United Methodist teenagers work side by side
with adults to determine ministry emphases and set direction. Young
people in other conferences have separate meetings in which they both
grapple with spiritual issues and experience how the church makes
decisions. In some conferences, youth are shielded entirely from the
In Virginia, a youth
and young adult delegation embodies the conference’s desire to be
“intentional about incorporating youth and young adults in full
participation at annual conference,” said Angie Williams, director of
youth. “I recruit annual conference delegates who are willing to serve
as chaperones to the (youth and young adult) delegation.”
The youth arrive a day and a half before adult members for orientation.
“We train the youth and
young adults regarding such topics as the (United Methodist)
connectional system, parliamentary procedure, our conference rules,
terminology and acronyms, resolutions, constitutional amendments, etc.,”
“These youth and young
adult representatives are full delegates to the annual conference and,
as a part of the youth and young adult delegation, they are expected to
participate in annual conference 100 percent. We even make them all get
up at 5 in the morning on the day of the potato drop — a mission
opportunity that our annual conference includes each year — and bag
potatoes for two hours before going to conference.”
Suella Barto / Central Pennsylvania Conference
youth representatives are full voting members of the Central
Pennsylvania Annual Conference and participate in all sessions. Suella
Barto, associate director for youth ministry, said the youth assist in
other ways during the meeting.
“They lead an early
morning Eucharist service, and they give a report or do a skit for the
whole conference each year,” she said.
California-Nevada Annual Conference has “a strong tradition of having a
youth delegation to annual conference, in which youth are either voting
delegates or delegates with no vote but voice on matters before the
annual conference,” said the Rev. Colin Kerr-Carpenter, coordinator of
youth and camping.
In both California-Nevada and Central Pennsylvania, youth delegates also do a lot of fund raising.
youth delegation raised over $5,000 at annual conference for the
Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty,” Kerr-Carpenter said. “Our
unique form of fund raising was called the ‘Copper Mile for Children and
Poverty,’ in which we challenged (annual conference) delegates to bring
their pennies so that we could lay a mile of pennies end-to-end around
the conference site.”
Pennsylvania youth bused lunch tables and raised more than $2,500 for
the Youth Service Fund, according to Barto.
The Rev. Terry
Gladstone, director of congregational resilience for the Detroit
Conference, said adult conference members find the youth a breath of
fresh air and make it a point to include the youth who attend. “Our
youth are fully involved in our annual conference,” he said, “and
frequently save the day with their insights and contributions.”
In several annual
conferences, youth hone their leadership skills and learn the workings
of United Methodism as they plan events for other youth.
The Iowa, South
Carolina and North Carolina conferences all have annual conferences for
youth – but at a time and location separate from the conference’s annual
Eric Guy / Iowa Annual Conference
Eric Guy, Iowa director
of youth and young adult ministries, said a standing committee with two
youth co-chairs and a conference dean, usually a college student, lead
“(Youth) are very
involved with both the planning and implementation of the event,” he
said. “I think it gives them a good understanding of the structure of
the church and the importance of the connection. I hope it helps
youth identify their calling and gifts for ministry.”
“Youth participants hear keynote speakers (and) attend leadership workshops, worship, concerts and a talent show,” he said.
“In South Carolina, we
feel that youth must address their spirituality before addressing
issues,” said June Willson, associate council director for age-level
ministries. “Therefore, our (youth annual conference) is around
spiritual formation with tremendous worship experiences.” Workshops
teach youth about United Methodism, and Wilson hopes the young people go
home with a better understanding of their faith.
The Rev. Sue Ellen
Nicholson, director of children, youth and young adult ministries for
the North Carolina Conference, helps lead an annual conference session
|A Web-only photo courtesy of Virginia United Methodist Communications
Youth bag potatoes as part of the Virginia Annual Conference gathering.
“The youth participate
in legislative affairs where they write and debate resolutions on
current issues. They also select and elect some of their youth
leadership for conference youth ministry that week,” she said. “Other
activities include daily worship, small groups both for spiritual growth
and topical interest groups, and evening programs — icebreakers, dance,
serious topics, talent show.”
The Rev. Jody Oates,
director of camps, conferences and retreats in the West Ohio Conference,
said the conference does not hold a youth annual conference and
intentionally does not teach youth the legislative part of the church.
“I am not convinced we
help build youth leaders who change the world or help build the kingdom
by teaching youth how we do legislation,” he said. “In the Wesleyan
understanding of holy conferencing as a means of grace, our present
conference gatherings do not reflect what I understand (Methodism
founder John) Wesley to have meant — that is, seeking God’s will
together. Rather we have created a political machine that rivals
any system in government. It does not always seem holy, and I
cannot reconcile myself to teach another generation this process.”
Oates said conference-level youth ministry must be distinctive from what districts and local churches do.
“It feels to me the
conference-level youth support is around leadership development — of
adults who work with youth — and resourcing and connecting
parishes who can be in ministry together.”
*Scahill, a mass
communications major at United Methodist-related Baker University in
Baldwin City, Kan., is an intern with the Convergence Team at United
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
Youth workers get energized, affirmed at Connection 2005
Religious groups reach youth by setting aside space
Churches, do you know where your young people are?
2005 Annual Conference Reports
Ministries with Young People
United Methodist Youth Foundation
Tips for Youth Ministry