Members of the Council for Youth and Adults Ministry of the United Church of Christ are on a mission to seek justice on issues of poverty, immigration and world hunger – and to see the places where youth ministry combines with justice advocacy. Where better to continue that work than at Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Crystal City, Va., during a three-day gathering dedicated to food justice, and at the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries office in Washington, D.C.?
"We've been very intentional this biennium to visit the JWM justice sites," said CYYAM co-chair Jake Joseph, a member of the JWM Board and representative of the UCC's Rocky Mountain Conference.
"I'm excited to see CYYAM leaders within the UCC find the intersectionality of the justice issues and see the ecumenical world that we're part of — beyond a UCC silo," Joseph said. "We have colleagues and peers in other denominations. It's empowering and energy-giving and a blessing to share in this work from different traditions than our own."
This is the 11th year for Ecumenical Advocacy Days, held Friday, April 5 through Sunday, April 7. The focus of this year's gathering centered on food justice. There were more than 1,000 people from several Christian denominations at EAD, which seeks to explore injustices in global food systems that leave about 1 billion people on the planet hungry and that create food price shocks.
Joseph and K'lla Encabo, a San Franciscan who represents UCC's Pacific Island and Asian American Ministries (PAAM), were two of nine CYYAM members present at Ecumenical Advocacy Days as the group sought ways to advocate within the church and in the world on food issues that affect them.
"The whole thing about EAD — the fact we can meet with other religious groups — we can compare and contrast our beliefs, and learn how we can make the denomination greater in working for justice," said Encabo, who views her role as an opportunity to provide PAAM with a voice.
"They get back in their settings, and they have a perspective that people there may not have," said Waltrina Middleton, the UCC's minister for youth advocacy and leadership formation. "EAD gave us the setting for them on how to be trained as lobbyists, and how to take these skills and advocate locally where they live."
CYYAM members had a packed schedule all weekend. In addition attending EAD, they met with UCC staff members at JWM's Washington, D.C., office, and visited Congressional representatives from their districts.
In the last two years, CYYAM has also visited the UCC's national offices in downtown Cleveland, the Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitakers, N.C., and the Centro Romero Immersion Center in Southern California. CYYAM represents a broad section of UCC youths and young adults between ages 13 and 30.
"Being a JWM board member, I see the justice centers as a mission of the church," Joseph said.
"They're community-based and it's exciting to see and realize them as justice centers, and environmental training centers or places that work to help the underprivileged."
Middleton said that when she began as the youth advocate for the UCC's national offices two years ago, she made it a priority to change the way the church views youths and young adults.
"Not only are we coming to learn about these important issues and how they impact our lives, but we want the world and wider church to understand how youth and young adults can impact it," she said. "In the past two years we have watched youths who were sophomores and now are ready to graduate, they're thinking about how these experiences impact their life when they go out into the world. Ministry is more than in the pulpit, but it's also engaged in youth and justice ministry issues."
"We have a solid dedicated group who are conscious that while we are the committee, we are not all of CYAAM, and that we are responsible for bringing these things back [to our congregations]," Joseph said. "We are blessed to be part of a denomination that not only respects our voices but wants to hear us and be with us in conversation."