The members of the Shared Mission Focus on Young People and the United Methodist Youth Organization concluded their final meeting with the releasing of a white dove, at Nashville, Tennessee on August 8. The two-day gathering marked the last meeting the groups will hold before they are replaced by the Division on Ministries with Young People in the United Methodist Church (UMC).
The Shared Mission Focus on Young people began eight years ago, while the history of the United Methodist Youth Organization stretches back 28 years. “The final meeting was bittersweet,” said Jay Williams, who has been co-leader of the Shared Mission Focus group since 1996. “In our closing worship we released a dove--a reminder that this process has been a movement of the Holy Spirit.”
The decision to streamline the youth ministry by merging the two historical groups was made at the UMC’s 2004 General Conference this April. The first meeting of the new division will be held Sept 28-Oct 2.
“We rejoiced for the General Conference’s affirmation of eight years of dreaming and hard work, but we also lamented because our team has become family,” said Williams.
According to the UMC, the new division is a “new thing” and a “marriage” of the two past groups, and the union will allow the youth and young adult ministries to grow rapidly.
Analisa “Ani” Trejo, current president of the United Methodist Youth Organization, said creation of the division “really affirms that God has truly been working all of these years through people all over the world to make this happen.
“To say this is the work of the Holy Spirit is a bold statement, but I truly feel like the Holy Spirit has moved through each one of us that has helped to make this happen, including those who voted to have this division at General Conference.”
In celebrating the ministry’s last breadth, two of the first youth staff members of the denomination was called as special guests to the weekend meeting; Fred Cloud and Tip Rice were members of the denomination's Joint Youth Staff (Field/Editorial) in the l950s and l960s.
“When Dr. Cloud and Mr. Rice visited our meeting, we were reminded that the dream for ministries with young people was birthed long before most of our team members were born,” said Ciona Rouse, staff director of the Shared Mission Focus on Young People.
“In their eighth decade of life, they (Cloud and Rice) stopped by to say ‘we want to join you to make this an inter-generational commitment with young people, middle-aged and seniors, building communities of mutual respect and love for one another and God,’” said the Rev. Mary Council-Austin of the Wisconsin Conference and an adult representative for the team.
“They inspired us to return to our communities and as we gather youth and young adults, invite also the stories of the old, and who knows, amid the stories we may discover manna to nourish us all,” she said.
“At this point we have crossed the threshold of all the work we have done as far as this team is concerned but I know we have carried the dreams of so many people-- it is not just our dreams,” added Julie O’Neal, co-chair of the Shared Mission Focus on Young People. “The division is not the end and it is not the only answer. In four years, 10 years, 50 years, the dreams are going to change.”
“I would say that this is only the first step,” said Trejo. “We need the church to trust that we are ready to be used by God in so many ways that we would be willing to take on what are commonly ‘adult’ roles. We plan to give the church new energy and ideas of ministry that is relevant to our generation.”
In a mark of hope, Rouse said the new division would allow for greater training, networking and financial support for local ministries.
“I love that the denomination has proclaimed that they are ready to be a church for all people, stepping out and doing something new with youth and young adults,” she said. “The division is going to need the prayers of the church. It will need churches to be open to new ways of being in ministry. Local congregations may have to change their views of the roles youth and young adults have in their congregations.”