Last night I attended my first plenary session..Actually, I was originally supposed to attend Board of Discipleship, but with some of our reserve members unable to come due to health, etc...I gladly agreed to switch over to Independent Commissions. For those that have asked why Kansas East is allowing all of us (delegates, reserves, and Juridictional Reserves) to attend General Conference, it is so that each of us can try to cover all the general agencies and areas covered. This allows each of us to be able to keep up on legislation before it is voted on and also will help us as we report back to our conference later.
Anyhow, one of the first orders of business was to elect our Chairperson, Vice -Chair and Secretary. With great surprise I watched a senior in high school run for V-Chair. With great confidence and a smooth campaign speech, she told us about all of the committees and things that she had been involved in. I wondered to myself, "I wonder what this group will do to her..will they give her the opportunity..or do they think it should be somebody else..somebody with more experience, more prestige, more resume fillers...etc.
Unfortunately, she did not make Vice-Chair. In fact, the next most common thing quickly happened. They wanted to elect her as secretary! She graciously thanked everyone but said no, thanks. I couldn't help but think to myself..go figure. A part of me was kind of sad, sad to think that as many strides as we have made, we still tend to have this attitude that you must serve your time before you are given any sort of leadership opportunity. Now, I do think the candidates that were chosen were great candidates and do a great job, but I also couldn't help but see what was happening. I actually heard someone tell her, you need to start with something that won't really matter (by the way, a secretary does matter!). Somehow the secretary positon is the one everyone feels is the safest to give to anybody (which by the way, isn't true!).
I thought about this woman..18 years old, a senior in High School..around the age of some of my own youth in my youth group at home. Although a part of me understands it all..the other part of me struggles with it. Everyone always says, don't worry, just wait, you have to earn your time.. Someday, you will be given the responsibility, someday you can make a difference, someday we will need you...but it just isn't right now. Do you see what I am saying?
Time and time again I have seen stories just like this happen over and over (even to myself). We (the UMC) keep saying, you are the future of the UMC. We need you.. But have you ever heard an answer to the question why do you need us?" Well, our church will die, we won't be able to pay our apportionments, etc, etc. I tend to look at things from a different view. I saw this young woman, excitement in her eyes, ready to serve her church and to make a difference! Her excitement...will it always be there? How many times can a youth or young adult be told, "sorry, we don't need you just yet..please come back later," before they no longer come back. Could this be why our denomination is dying.. because some of us finally feel that we are not wanted for the right reasons?
I struggle with this. I too am a young adult. I am 29 years old and yes, I look about 16. I have struggled my entire life with this. It is funny most days, but others it burns me. I also struggle with being an active United Methodist, and a woman, involved in the denomination. I am married, have two small children, and believe me, it took great work to be able to come here.
It isn't just young people! I have many clergy and conference friends who continually ask me, "Why Stephanie have you not went to seminary? Why not consider a career as a pastor". The truth? It isn't as easy as it looks! As a young, married, with children, woman, my options are a little more complicated. How many woman do you know in our denomination who are clergy, but their husbands are not? There are some, but not many. The truth is that as much as my husband supports my decision to be in ministry, etc... I still must deal with the fact that he is the bread-winner.. I just cannot be shipped to a small town somewhere, we must stay where his job is too. Not to mention the aspect that although woman are accepted into the United Methodist Church under full rights and order just like men, there is still a sense of the men's club with some individuals. Please note I mean some, not all. We still struggle with the notion that woman are not to be in a position of power. We sometimes forget the reason these woman are in these positions...because they want to spread the word, share Jesus's love, and to make a difference!
I believe that if we are going to continue and grow, or "stay alive" as a denomination, that we must face some of these issues and explore them more. What are the issues that are turning away our young (and yes, even older people). Could it be they see these things? Could it be that these issues, ones that we think our visitors do not see..are visible to all. Please know that I am not bashing the church, but I am worried. I work with young people everyday. If I, at the age of 29 struggle sometimes with whether or not all of this is worth it, what are the younger folks going through. I am lucky, I have been a part of the church for a long time. I am an optimist. Yes, there are days I want to throw in the towel, there are days it just doesn't seem worth it anymore...but somehow I keep plugging away, keep trying to find myself and find my way...
I also have hope. Hope. Our theme for this conference...."A Future With Hope". Yes, there is a future of hope. One that includes young AND old, laity and clergy, liberals and conservatives. My hope is that we remember that young woman with her bright, shiny, eyes, her strong motivation, her determination, her commitment and her love for God. It is my hope that we will find her, beg her to keep involved, and finally put away the belief that age is more important than life experiences. I hope that in five years this young woman is still in this conference, still connected to the United Methodist Church, and hopefully (sooner than later) able to find that one person who will open the door for her. Open hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors. But are we there yet?...