Original Posting At http://lenguadelaz.blogspot.com/2012/11/imagining-whats-next.html
My day is winding down and I can honestly say that I have not done anything productive. I say that without the slightest amount of guilt because after returning from the NEXT conference in St. Louis I needed some Sabbath time to rest and reflect. When I talk about my life at the Bonhoeffer Housemany people ask me what keeps me from burning out and I explain the importance of a Sabbath. I am an extravert and so attending conferences like NEXT reenergize me but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t need some rest. Usually I take my Sabbath in spurts but today I was able to take a full 24 hours of rest, relaxation, and reflection.
After General Conference I wrote about how I had lost hope in the UMC. I went back and read that post this afternoon and I still mean what I said. In the post I said that “I have no hope for the United Methodist Church as it is today” and after this weekend I would like to follow that up with “but I have not lost hope for the United Methodist Church as it will be in the future”. At the NEXT conference I was able to join with other young people in sharing our vision of what is NEXT for the church universal and for the United Methodist Church. It was refreshing to share some of my experiences and look out to see people attentively listening. I have shared similar messages before with leaders in the UMC but often get questions like “how will this ministry work in the itinerancy system”, “what are the liabilities”, or “how much will this cost”. This weekend, however, the main question I heard was “how can I do something like that!?”.
Unlike General Conference or the United Methodist Student Forum, NEXT does not seek to legislate change but seeks to live out change. Rather than sit in a room for a weekend voting on resolutions, 10 young people shared 8 short talks, which were bookended by an older clergy and Bishop of the denomination. In between the talks were affinity groups where the attendees could talk about how the messages affected them and how they were going to take the ideas home to affect change. No, this was not about sending messages in writing to General Conference, it was about sending messages in word and deed to the world. At General Conference I saw the mission statement of “making disciples for the transformation of the world” written on binders, shirts, chalices, banners, and bibles but at NEXT I saw “making disciples for the transformation of the world” written on smiling faces, dances, music, and art.
We were not there to talk about a plan for restructuring. There was no mention of the Connectional Table, IOT, Plan B, or Plan UMC. We did not talk about pension, security of appointment, or the death tsunami. Instead we talked about creating space for intergenerational, interdenominational, intercultural, and interreligious dialogue. We talked about speaking out against sex trafficking, racism, sexism, and heterosexism. We talked about church buildings looking like coffee shops, art galleries, and mom and pop corner stores. We talked about the church being not about buildings or institutions but about the people. We talked about the importance of our lives merging with the lives of others and merging with God.
There was something else that I realized when reflecting back on the event. I should have realized it the first day when Beth was talking about the lineup of speakers. She said she wanted to rotate between college students and older people. I asked her which category I was in and she laughed and simply said “you’re old”. I laughed because I served as a page at General Conference where I was a generation or two younger than most of the delegates. I laughed because I had spoken at Relevance LEAD that was a conference for young adults yet I was the youngest person in attendance by about 5-10 years. I laughed until the attendees started coming in. I realized that I was 3-6 years older than the far majority of the people there and I was older than about half of the speakers.
The big shock came when I was talking to a girl who was a freshman in college and she shared that she was looking to declare as a candidate for ordained ministry when she returned home. I did the math and realized that with 3-4 more years of undergrad, 3-4 years of graduate school, and then 2 years of provisional status, she will be ordained as a young clergy while I am on the edge of aging out of young clergy status. All this time I have been fooling myself into thinking that my friends and I are the future of the church. I realized in reflecting upon the conference that there is a chance that I can be a part of the future of the church but I don’t see that as the likely scenario. Rather than seeking to be empowered to affect change in the church, perhaps my biggest task will to be to empower those who are younger than me. I have no right to complain about those in position of leadership not yielding to those younger than them if I am not willing to do the same. I may be able to do some stuff as a young clergy but I am already beginning to realize that the most powerful move I could make would be to yield that power to someone even younger than myself.