Why I am a United Methodist Minister…(and will always be one): The Impact of Conference Youth Ministry

umc

While in the Western region of Maryland on a preaching engagement I took time to visit McDaniel College (formerly Western Maryland College).   I drove up on the campus, parked my car and began the walk that I used to take 30 years ago as a youth attending what was known as Youth Assembly of the Baltimore Conference of the United Methodist Church.

In those days, we didn’t have Rock event as it is now.  We had a smaller conference wide event that drew together about 160 youth every summer in the month of  June.  For those of us who attended, it was the highlight of the year.  We had workshops, baseball games, community building, and worship.  Underneath all of that, we also had the typical heartbreaks and 48 hour romances that came with teenage life.  Then, there was the newsletter that circulated the entire assembly.  They were the greatest newsletters EVER!

What we created was, community.  From Tuesday through Friday, we lived together.  We ate together.  We slept in dormitories and ate in the college cafeteria.  But, what was the highlight of the week, was the Thursday night worship service and Holy Communion.  It was in this service that many persons became believers, received their call to the ministry and other vocational paths.  This was a powerful night, ending with a circle outside of Big Baker Chapel singing, “Pass it On.”  That hymn was reserved seemingly for the last night of Youth Assembly.  During that hymn, we wept, we remembered and we realized that we were apart of something huge, no matter what home life was like, no matter what life was like back at school, for a moment we created a larger community that felt like and was, the Kingdom of God.

Walking on that campus, some thirty years later, I remember so very well and understood so deeply that that experience was life changing and life saving.  My call to this life was nurtured and birthed on that campus for the following reasons:

  1. Intimacy.  Youth Assembly (and the Conference Youth Council) was a small group of kids who had grasped the gospel mission.  We were small enough to know when someone was struggling and striving.  Our intimacy was small enough to break bread and raise cup over a common table.  Yet, all were welcome and more came.
  2.  One on one access to pastors.  As youth we had the pastors during that week ALL to ourselves.  The pastors hung out with  us, conversed with us and literally befriended us.  The Rev’s. Terri Cofiel, E. Allen Stewart, Kim Capps, Gayle Annis-Forder,  Mark Mooney, Joan Carter-Rimbach, Richard Gray, Terri Rae Chattin, and Bill Hershey were just a few.  These were young adult clergy, youthful, energetic and vibrant and took us in under their wing and believed in us beyond our own understanding.  I am today, because of them.  I got to ask a thousand questions, explore a number of issues and listen to a variety of preaching styles and theological insights.
  3.  Youth planned EVERYTHING.  Youth came up with the theme, chose speakers, and figured out the product.  The adults were in the background gently leading and guiding us.
  4. I was exposed to other youth from other cultural backgrounds who also shared the call to serve the church.   We all didn’t remain United Methodist but a few of us did.  Even in those days, we wrestled with issues of nuclear disarmament, homosexuality, the drug war and world peace.
  5.  United Methodism at work and in sight.  The United Methodist Church led Youth Assembly from beginning to end.  All of the preachers were Baltimore Conference clergy.  Communion was very liturgical and powerful.  Hearing them preach, watching them consecrate elements, sitting on the steps hearing their stories solidified for me that this is where I wanted to be.
  6. Being on a college campus exposed me to the possibilities of being in a college of my own and

I don’t mean to suggest that those days were perfect or that we grew up to live perfect lives.  In fact, some of us struggled to make sense of  life after those days.  But, it was those days that pushed us to fight through difficult seasons of divorce, loss, cancer, addiction, failure and all the other seasons that accompany adult life.  We had a foundation to stand on and to lean on.

I was nurtured as a youth.  I was nurtured by committees on ordained ministry.  I was a child of the church being raised to serve our Lord.  For this reason, I will always be faithful to this church; riddled with challenge, shifting and calls to change.  It found its way to my neighborhood, picked me up and utilized my gifts.   God brought me back here to this campus I came to in 1985, to remind me of what a sacred relationship and trust I’ve been invited to serve in.  Oh what a privilege.

I got back in my car after this stroll with thanksgiving in my heart, that I grew up in the neighborhood known as the United Methodist Church.  I am here to serve and I won’t turn back.

I love thy church, O God!  for her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend, to her my cares and toils be givin, till toils and cares shall end.  Beyond my highest joy, I prize her ehavenly ways, her sweet communion, solemn vows, her hymns of love and praise.

 

 

 

 

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~ by bkevinsmalls on January 14, 2016.

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