At the 2008 General Conference Reconciling Ministries Network and Methodist Federation for Social Action hosted the first ever young adult day. This space brought young people to speak, rally and proclaim to the church that what we want most of all is empowerment and equality for all God’s people. These young United Methodists demonstrated passion, faithfulness, idealism, and raw unbridled hope that could nourish a soul for a lifetime. Speaking with wisdom beyond their years about the call of God on their lives, they boldly declared that the change we seek has already come, because it is alive and vibrant in this new generation.
At informal youth gatherings I have heard another message as well: Being a young voice in the church can be isolating and lonely. The world tells you that people are not willing for change or new ideas. Our systems and structures at times crush the passion and vision of our young leaders. If we are to create the inclusion we desire—and be on the cutting edge of what we know our church can be—we must empower new and varied voices.
We all have a lot to learn from each other. The passion and the energy that young people have may need a direction, a task, or an outlet. We cannot just tell young people they are leaders. We have to do the work of empowerment, skill training, and mentoring while being open to new ideas and energy. Leadership development takes time, energy, and resources, and we have to be willing to prioritize it to honor new leadership.
We must remember that God told Jeremiah, “Do not say ‘I am only a youth.’” Each of us is more than our age or race or gender identity or sexual orientation or social class. We are a children of God called to do great things. All new leaders of any age or identity need guidance, instruction and support to make their dreams into a reality. As a movement, groups like MFSA (Methodist Federation for Social Action) and RMN (Reconciling Ministries Network) have the ability to nurture new voices and support young leaders. Those that have new vision need the skills and experience of those who have come before to create the change they wish to see.Rachel Birkhan-Rommelfanger is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary in DC and former Chair of the United Methodist Student Movement. She spends much of her time advocating within the church around LGBTQ equality, anti-racism, and young people's ministries. She currently serves on the General Commission on Religion of Race, Division on Ministries with Young People and the Reconciling Ministries Network Board of Directors.