Even as the Rev. Adam Hamilton argued for the Call to Action reforms at General Conference last night, Twitter lit up with commentary from young people across the connection.
While there were supportive words, much of the reaction was negative.
Josh Hale (@expatminister) observed from Texas: “I’m seeing lots of Twitter chatter that challenges tonight’s CTA proposal…& little that buys in.”
But interviews with young Methodists at General Conference, provided a fuller, more nuanced reaction. And Mr. Hamilton may have helped his cause by meeting with the younger attendees earlier today.
Representation and conversation
Perhaps because the CTA presentation focused on being able to minister with younger clergy and congregants, young adults felt they had cause to ask why they hadn’t been consulted more in designing the reforms themselves.
Several young Methodists felt talked about without being a part of the conversation.
Bethany Amey was one of four young persons selected to serve on the Call to Action team, but said she did not feel that she or the others had a significant voice, especially in crafting legislation.
She agrees with many CTA goals, however. The sticking point is how the Interim Operations Team, a small group that included Mr. Hamilton, took the broad mandate and turned it into specific proposals.
Amy Valdez-Barker, a young adult CTA member who presented alongside Mr. Hamilton, had a positive experience serving on the CTA team. Still, she acknowledged: “Representation is difficult. …. No one can represent everyone else of her age, her gender and her ethnicity.”
Concerns about equitable representation for ethnic groups continue among young adults UMs—both from within and outside the United States.
Earlie Pasion, past president of the United Methodist Youth Fellowship in the Philippines and now a seminary student, said Call to Action “does not acknowledge that we are a global church. The statistics are purely U.S.-based. Why would you put forward a proposal that doesn’t consider the central conferences and the world in general?”
Last night, several young adults expressed frustration that church leaders haven’t engaged them—especially in social media venues.
The negative feedback, expressed via social media, prompted Mr. Hamilton to invite young United Methodists at General Conference to meet with him early this afternoon, in the main hall of the Tampa Convention Center.
“I read all of the negative tweets last night,” he said. “I’m a big boy and I slept fine afterwards. … But I do care enough to call this meeting and try to talk some more.”
During the session, attended by almost 100 young adults, Mr. Hamilton addressed questions about liability issues some say complicate agency restructuring. He also talked about strategic goals for CTA, and ways the reform initiative can be improved.
Afterward, some who had attended said they appreciated the opportunity and would like more dialogue with denomination leaders. Several participants tweeted their appreciation
Alissa Bertch-Johnson, a campus minister in the Pacific-Northwest conference who has served with general agencies, was among those who felt the session with Mr. Hamilton helped.
Ms. Bertch-Johnson’s concerns about the agency restructuring and other reform proposals aren’t, however, completely allayed.
“It feels rushed,” she said of the IOT legislation coming out of CTA. “We did this in nine months of panic mode and in this urgency we haven’t been able to create the space and time to really discern where the Holy Spirit is moving.”
The Rev. Jeremy Smith, who through his blog is a well-known online voice in UM circles, was frustrated with the approach of last night’s presentation.
“The church thinks that the young people will save the church, but actually the young people want to save the world,” he said. “If we can show them that the young people can save the world through the church, then young people will gladly be a part of the church.”
Christina Wright, a deacon from West Michigan, said the priority for her is not reversing the UMC’s numerical declines in the U.S. The pressing question, she said, is: “Does the church actually do the radical, world-transforming things at the core of Christianity?”
Questions of focus
While other young adults expressed similar concerns, Ricky Harrison, lead lay delegate from the North Texas Annual Conference and a student at McMurry University, was far more upbeat.
“I was really impressed with the presentation,” he said. “We cannot continue business as usual.”
Katie McKay Simpson, an alternate clergy delegate from Louisiana, felt much the same.
“The CTA is inwardly focused for a reason,” she said. “Of course we need to reach out to the world, but we have to get our own body of Christ strengthened from time to time.”
That reflected Mr. Hamilton’s thinking – and his explanation to the group.
“My job was a miserable job,” he said of his address. “I got to be the oncologist who told the church that it had cancer. My goal was to scare the hell out of you and say I don’t want this to be your future…I wasn’t trying to give you hope.”
Some young Methodists don’t feel that hope and challenge are mutually exclusive.
The Rev. Melissa Myers wishes that instead of gloomy statistics and a video about a now-defunct UM church, the presenters had told stories like that of the church where she is appointed.
“The church I serve is a story of resurrection and hope,” she said. “It was a merger of three churches that were not yet dead but had no children in them. They decided to come together, do something different, request a young pastor and focus resources on young people by asking young people what they want. That’s the story to be heard instead of a story of empty pews.”
Even those young people who have issues with the CTA/IOT approach expressed positive words about the United Methodist Church and its potential to minister with rising generations.
“The conversation has begun and that gives me a lot of hope,” said Katherine Ullman, a seminarian. “I want to be discipled and not just told, ‘go do it.’”
Their hope extends beyond partnerships. It’s rooted in Methodist theology and practice.
“I stay because there’s something about the Wesleyan heritage that I love,” said Ms. Wright. “Our emphasis on social and personal holiness is incredible. I want a church that emphasizes these things to grow and thrive.”
The Rev. Mike Baughman is an ordained elder, social media coach and special contributor to the United Methodist Reporter.