Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Moment of Personal Privilege

by Stephanie Gottschalk

Listen to the full message here.

My name is Stephanie Gottschalk, I am 31 years old and a first-time delegate to General Conference, I love you, and I believe in the value of your voice. I came here charged to employ that belief in holy conference.

I came to general conference in order to hear other voices, share my own and to be in Holy Conferencing. While here, I have been captivated by the beautiful visions that I have seen at the 2012 General Conference. We've dreamed dreams of a church that addresses the changing needs of our world. We have talked of a time when our church empowers the voices of the the young and marginal.

I have been captivated by the visions for our future painted by this General Conference. We dream of a church that addresses the changing needs of our world. We talk of a time when our church will empower the young and the marginalized. We all yearn for meaningful change. As a young person I came to this holy conference with you, so that together we could discern the changes that will make these visions real.

I am happy to say that through the many conversations that I have had with other young people, I have discovered this to be true. I have made many friends with people who look like me and don't look like me, from around the world. I have experienced powerful worship services and have had even more powerful holy moments. I have also had deep conversations with people that I have agreed to disagree with.

Yet General Conference has also opened my eyes to a painful reality.

The pain of coming to the table with a heart open to listen and finding closed-door meetings, manipulation of the process, and systematic ageism. I feel betrayed by what I have witnessed. The lack of integrity in a system in which important and SACRED work is done. Fear and mistrust have led to actions which, in turn, breed more fear and mistrust.

I have heard of specific and repeated behaviors dismissing, intimidating and disempowering many, but especially young people.

In committee work, a few young people were ignored when they asked questions. Others have been told they cannot understand legislation because it is too complex. After being kept away from the conversation surrounding restructure, young people were pressured to endorse legislative compromises that they were not invited to help draft.

However, I am most upset that we will be forever be known as the General Conference, which on Wednesday, adopted a restructure plan that takes away all guaranteed youth and young adult voices from it's most central committee.

This isn't right. It isn't right, it isn't just and it isn't holy...

I love you. I love Jesus, and I love the United Methodist Church. I am not saying these truths because I'm disenfranchised or giving up. I'm saying these things because I care and becuase I'm not leaving.

To all of you who have listened, comforted and supported us when we have been hurt, you are our heroes... Thank you.

...But to change this system... we need more.

We need you to be our champions: We need you to stand up for the  underrepresented of our church family when you see things happening that aren't right. We need you to trust us with the gospel that you shared with us; calling out unjust behaviors when you witness them and to consider your own assumptions about the young people you encounter. By doing this work together we can start living into being the holy body of Christ.

Bishop, can you please pray for this body, for those who have been harmed, and especially for those of us who have hurt others here.

Though she ran out of time, she tweeted her suggestions on how to better include young people and make holy conferenceingactuallyhappen.

1. Be intentional about nominating (youth, young laity, young clergy) 4 general boards, agencies, jurisdictional committees.

2. Name behaviors, injustices, absences, and misunderstandings that you witness in others and in the church.

3. Be mindful & aware of your own assumptions & behaviors about others, including young people. Does it build up or tear down?

Please share online & face to face w/others. We truly need young leaders in practice in order to live fully as the church.


Stephanie came to Emanuel UMC in Pittsburgh, PA, as Pastor in 2009. She is a graduate of George Washington University and Wesley Theological Seminary, both located in Washington, D.C. She was also a reserve delegate from Western Pennsylvania to General Conference. You can read more about her here.

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