A grassroots campaign to attract at least 1,000 youth to the UCC's General Synod 26 is gaining ground - and enthusiasm.
Gerardo Serna, 31, a member of First Spanish UCC in Chicago, first conceived of the idea about a year ago, because he feels that churches, in general, give lip service to youth involvement, but offer little incentive for real participation.
Serna's hope is that at least 50 young people from each of the UCC's 39 Conferences will make the journey to the UCC's 50th anniversary celebration, June 22-26, in Hartford, Conn.
Serna first shared his dream with members of the Illinois Conference Youth Initiative, saying he didn't just want young people to "experience" General Synod but he wanted UCC youth to make a real impact on General Synod's proceedings and decisions.
"In a brainstorming session, when General Synod came up, I said it would be a really good idea to get as many young people together and just drive from Illinois to Hartford [Conn.] and pick up as many UCC youth on the way," Serna told United Church News. "It's an idea that's grown from here in Illinois to being a full-fledged idea that's gotten everyone involved."
Affordable dormitory rooms at the University of Hartford have been reserved at $38 per night, and the Rev. Da Vita McCallister, the UCC's minister for youth and young adults, is helping to promote and coordinate the campaign.
"Fifty for 50 years of service. One thousand strong. That's our goal," McCallister said. "We've started spreading the word, and young people are getting excited about this effort. We've got a lot of firm commitments and a lot of churches are coming forward with questions."
McCallister points to the startling fact that less than four percent of UCC clergy are under the age of 40. "So, statistically, our chances of making it to our 100th anniversary year are relatively low," McCallister said. That is, unless something drastic occurs.
"We're saying that the voices of youth and young adults are not being heard, and there are a lot of young people who are interested in the future of this church," McCallister said.
McCallister is sweetening the pot a little, she says, by offering to cut a UCC-stylish comma into her hairline - which she will color red - if at least 1,000 youth take up the invitation to attend Synod.
Interested young people or youth ministers should contact McCallister by March 1 at 216-736-3871 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A flyer promoting the campaign can be downloaded at: ucc.org/youth/50_4_50.pdf.