Speaker after speaker told the 429 young adults gathered to explore ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church that God is calling them to go change the world and the church.
“This is not your momma and daddy’s church. We have to be about making disciples, not members,” Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey told those attending Exploration 2013 in Denver, Colo.
Among the participants were 15 young adults from Western PA accompanied by the Revs. Keith Dunn and Alyce Weaver Dunn and Janet Lord.
Harvey, the episcopal leader of the Louisiana Conference, asked the diverse group—27 percent of young adults were racial-ethnic—what would happen if “we stopped worrying about saving the church and focused on saving souls?”
“I want you to be unleashed by the Spirit to listen to where God might be calling you. I’d love to see you all discern a call to ordained ministry, but I know discerning a call to lay ministry is equally important,” Harvey said during her sermon at Saturday night’s commitment service.
“All God wants or needs is for you to be the best YOU that you can be,” she said. “Listen. God might just be calling your name.”
The Nov. 15-17 event, sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, aims to help young adults hear, discern, and respond to God’s call to ordained ministry and to explore their gifts for service as a deacon or elder in the UMC. Total attendance was 676 individuals, including chaperones, workshop leaders, speakers, and members of the planning team.
The Rev. Trip Lowery, GBHEM’s director of Young Adult Ministry Discernment and Enlistment, told his own story of teaching high school, co- managing a surf shop, and playing professional soccer before he accepted the call to ordained ministry. “I wandered a lot, and I wish that as I explored and wandered around that I had reached out to someone. You are surrounded this weekend by people who want to help you.”
Lowery said he was pleased that the young adults who attended were such a diverse group and noted an effort was made to have speakers, workshop leaders, and small group leaders from all walks of life in the UMC.
The Rev. April Casperson, co-chair of the team that plans Exploration, said she thinks those who attended Exploration 2013 came from more diverse locations than in years past. Casperson, who is also director of Enrollment Management and Scholarship Development at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, said she would guess that undergraduate colleges and universities, as well as seminaries, are becoming more diverse.
“This means good things for the church. It is important to have leaders who can serve in different ministry contexts,” Casperson said.
Bishop Harvey, who attended a late-night gathering for young adults who self-identify as people of color to discuss issues they face in the UMC, said growing up in a barrio allowed her to keep a foot in two worlds. She told the group that she thinks they are uniquely placed to lead the church. “Most of you speak more than one language; you have an ability to keep a foot in both worlds. You are the best hope we have. If we can’t do it with you, we’ll never do it,” said Harvey, who is the first Latina bishop elected in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.
Worship, small groups, and workshops were all aimed at answering questions young adults have about how God is calling them and what steps to take.
Bill and Lyndsay Cupp, a young couple who are youth leaders at Lehman-Idetown UMC in Lehman, Pa., said they felt the small groups especially were helpful.
“I definitely want to be involved in the church, especially youth ministry,” Lyndsay Cupp said. But she added that she was thinking about certification and was not yet sure about ordination.
Bill Cupp liked the small, intimate setting of small groups. “It was nice to get with other people who are on the same track,” he said.
Sarah Craven, a pastoral intern at two United Methodist churches in Missouri, said she learned more about her options at Exploration. “I come from a small town, and I didn’t even know what a deacon was. I thought pastor was the only option you had.”
Joshua Shaw, a student at Bethel University and member at Alamo First UMC in Tennessee, said he most enjoyed being with people his own age who are discerning their own call. “They understand how hard it is to answer that call at this age,” he said. “My family supports me, but my friends don’t understand why I’m choosing this. They say I could be doing something else.”
The Rev. Jorge Acevedo, lead pastor of Grace Church – a multi-site UMC congregation in southwest Florida – warned young adults that family and friends will question the choice to go into ministry. “They’ll tell you that you won’t make any money. They’ll tell you ministry is hard, and God won’t take care of you,” he said.
“But I’m telling you that for every heartache, God will give you 10 explosions of joy. . . . If God has called you into ministry, you will be miserable until you say yes,” Acevedo said.
He told the group that Jesus’ favorite word was go. “If you follow Jesus, you are supposed to teach and make disciples. It doesn’t matter how many your church seats; it matters how many you send,” he said.
The Rev. Beth LaRocca-Pitts, senior pastor at Saint Mark UMC in Atlanta, Ga., told of watching a priest serve Mass in her father’s Catholic church. She suddenly realized “that I wanted no other life.” When that was followed by the thought— I’m a girl— which meant she could not become a Catholic priest, she got up and walked two blocks to her mother’s church, Athens First United Methodist.
“Don’t spend your life currency on anything less than what God has called you to do. Don’t just go work; answer the call,” LaRocca-Pitts said.
The Rev. Eric Huffman, who with his wife and co-pastor leads a multi-site faith community of about 500 in Kansas City, urged the young adults to be utterly reliant on Jesus and said ministry is a “glorious and joyous” life.
“I know you are being called to do great things, but don’t let it go to your head. My prayer is that you spend the rest of your life pointing people toward the only shepherd, Jesus Christ.”
Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.