For three days, participants at the UCC's National Youth Event (NYE) have been meeting, celebrating, worshiping and working. Friday the UCC youth sat down with the denomination’s Conference Ministers for "town hall" style meetings to learn about what is expected and needed from the next generation.
With topics ranging from identifying individual gifts for ministry to mobilizing the church in response to societal and environmental challenges, the youth listened, discussed, and learned the many roles they will be called upon to fill to serve their church.
"This is the time of biggest change," said the Rev. Mike Denton, Conference Minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference. Youth are more connected to each other and have greater access to change the world, he said. "Change the church and change the world."
Denton's town hall focused on ways youth and young adults could "take over" the UCC. "Each generation has a responsibility to make the church its own," he said. "There are a lot of ways you can influence big things."
The Town Hall topics reflected the challenges facing the church, challenges to be addressed by the next generation of leaders. These include the environment, hunger, globalization, diversity, and church leadership itself.
"Baptism is a call to lead," said the Rev. Kent Siladi, Conference Minister of the Florida Conference. Siladi worked with a group of youth to learn qualities and characteristics of leadership.
"There are three rules to learning to be a leader –– and nobody knows them," Siladi said. While leaders are identified in many ways -- such as training, election and appointment -- the church uses the process of ordination, he told the youth.
"We set up leaders [in the church] to preach and teach the Gospel, exercise the sacraments and exercise pastoral care," he said, as he pointed out there is not one best way to find, teach and support leaders.
What will be certain is that the next generation of church leaders will confront challenges and issues as important as previous generations. The Rev. Jim Antal of the Massachusetts Conference reminded his workshop group that previous generations mobilized the church to overcome slavery, racial and sexual discrimination, and equality. "Brains react to immediate issues," Antal cautioned, "but they are not evolutionary built." He warned the youth participants that mobilizing for long-term issues, such as climate change, takes patience and perseverance, and that their actions –– or lack of action –– will have a lasting impact.
"Remember the Golden Rule 2.0," he said. "Treat future generations as you would want them to treat you."