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Annual conferences hone skills of young leaders

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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.
July 19, 2005

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 legislative process.

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.,” Williams said.

“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.”

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Suella Barto / Central Pennsylvania Conference

Thirty-one 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.

The 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.

“Our 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.”

The Central 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 meeting.

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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 their event.

“(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 for youth.

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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 Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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