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NCC Stewards Program aims to build young leaders

10/13/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By Carol Fouke*

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Motoe Yamada. Photo number W03036, Accompanies UMNS#487
NEW YORK (UMNS) - Katherine Parker, 25, of Ames, Iowa, looks forward to networking with others who are organizing for change. Grant Kinney, 21, of Alma, Mich., seeks a ministry that reflects ecumenical compassion.

Parker and Kinney, both United Methodists, are two of 10 young adults from across the United States selected as stewards for the National Council of Churches' November 2003 General Assembly in Jackson, Miss. Their stated mission will be to "serve in the background and observe up close the deliberative work of ecumenism."

The annual meeting brings together some 250 delegates from the NCC's 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member denominations for business and fellowship, small-group discussion of current issues, daily worship and Bible study.

"I hope that by being a steward … I will be able to network with others, especially young adults, who are organizing for change around faith issues," Parker writes in her application. She says she learned the importance of ecumenical work while serving as a mission intern at the Asian Rural Institute in Japan on behalf of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Kinney sees the ecumenical movement as critical to a rebirth of Christianity. He explains his personal interest in ecumenical work and in serving as an intern at the assembly. "I seek ministry that is 'outside the box,' that seeps out the doors of the church, that incorporates and transcends traditional church models and that reflects ecumenical compassion," he says.

This year, delegates will elect NCC officers for 2004-07 and install them along with the council's president for 2004-05, Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt, leader of the Fourth District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Shreveport, La.

Two of the stewards - Cyreeta Collins, 31, from Jamaica, N.Y., and Adrian Evans, 30, of Mobile, Ala. - are CME members. In her application, Evans expressed her delight at Hoyt's NCC presidency and said, "I intend to be in attendance regardless to celebrate this achievement with him, for our church is extremely proud."

The Stewards Program, new this year, is the latest addition to a wider NCC program of support for young adult leadership in the ecumenical movement. The activities of the NCC's longstanding Ecumenical Young Adult Ministries Team include a biennial "Come to the Feast" conference, which draws 300-plus participants.

The NCC Constitution specifies that at least one in eight of each member denomination's delegates to the assembly should be age 18 to 30. A Young Adult Caucus was formed at last year's assembly. On Nov. 3, a pre-assembly event will give young adults opportunity to participate in common prayer, ecumenical learning and visioning, and dialogue with leadership of the NCC and of Church World Service, the global humanitarian agency of the NCC's 36 member denominations.

The stewards' work - assisting with hospitality, registration, audio-visual needs and technology, communications and other tasks - will be complemented by their interactions with national church leaders and their experience of an assembly's rich interdenominational and multicultural environment.

Evan Jones, 25, a United Methodist from San Antonio, is so eager to be part of an NCC General Assembly that he wrote in his application, "I would clean toilets if it meant that I got to listen and learn from this body. It would be an honor to be there."

Motoe Yamada, 27, a United Methodist from Berkeley, Calif., knew nothing about Christianity during her childhood in Tokyo. Through an ecumenical campus ministry at the University of Toledo, she learned that Jesus loves her, and she became baptized. "Because of my unique background, I was not aware of denominational differences," she writes. "I believe that God made us to work together, not to fight against each other."

While working on hunger issues, Melissa Porter, 27, a United Methodist from Virginia Beach, Va., recalls feeling frustrated by the division among churches. "I am eager to learn further ways to tear down walls as we work together not for the sake of religion but for humanity," she writes in her application.

The 10 stewards' expenses will be paid by special donations from three individuals, who designated their contributions in support of expanded opportunities for young adults to take leadership in ecumenical endeavors, says the Rev. Patrice L. Rosner, NCC associate general secretary for education.

Their selection, from a pool of 20 applicants, was based on a detailed application. During the assembly, each will interview assembly participants with particular expertise - for example, interfaith relations or education ministries - and will write a 500-word essay on their experiences as a steward.

The stewards will spend Nov. 2-7 in Jackson for a schedule that includes orientation and debriefing, the Young Adult Pre-Assembly Event and the Nov. 4-6 assembly itself.

In addition to the United Methodists, the stewards hail from four other denominations - the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; Roman Catholic Church; and United Church of Christ.

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*Fouke is media liaison for the National Council of Churches.

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