Dear church: An open letter from young people
Written by Kendra Purscell and Kelly Forbush
April - May 2009
I need you! Like whoa. My life is changing a mile a minute, and I need a spiritual home.
It's a bit nerve-racking to walk into a new church—it took three years for one of my friends to build up the courage to try the local UCC church, even though he knew it was open and welcoming.
The church needs to actively reach out to youth and young adults. This could be as simple as putting your church's name in the list of churches at the local college chaplain's office. Better yet, host an event for the youth or young adults in your area. I've heard about another church that serves a midnight pancake breakfast during finals period, and the whole campus attends this much loved annual event.
You don't need to use that idea, but I am sure homesick college students and young folks new to the area would love a home-cooked meal by loving Christians any time of the year. One church reaches out to young people through their regular social justice programs by advertising the volunteer program to young people in the area.
Whether it is a home-cooked meal, a social justice program, a book group or even a late-night prayer service, I just want a place to make friends with other young Christians.
Youth and young adults are doing all sorts of different things, from starting college to taking their first job. Regard-less of where we are or what we are doing, we are new to our environments and need spiritual partners for the journey.
Church, if there is anything you can do to help me build relationships with other Christians, I would be so grateful! My friend Emilia says, "I need a young adult group in my church! Even if it starts out small, if it isn't there to offer young adults when they come to visit a church, then they feel as if there is nothing there specifically for them."
And Kathryn agrees: "Sometimes, it is just nice to know that the program is there and to have someone to con-nect with over coffee or something…It's nice to have that support and talk about faith or just life in general."
Once you've actively reached out, if you ever see a young person you don't recognize in church one Sunday, don't hesitate to say hello! Many of us go church-shopping to find the right church community for us, and most of the time the first step is just making us feel welcome!
So introduce yourself and ask us about our interests and passions. Who knows? You might make a new friend! As LiErin puts it, "For some young people, a church community is one of the few places to cultivate intergenera-tional relationships. Nurture these relationships! As someone living in student housing, far from my family, I relish the rare opportunity to share a meal in a church member's home or to play Frisbee in a real backyard, with kids of all ages."
One of my friends recently moved to a new town and went to a local UCC church. Everyone was really nice, but it was hard to be one of, if not the only, young person in a congregation with already formed families and friend groups.
As my friend Kevin told me, "People need to realize that oftentimes youth and young adults, not feeling part of the already established group, need to be invited in to ministry and community, not expected to integrate themselves by their own accord."
This does not necessarily mean automatically signing a new member up for the committee in most need of peo-ple. Ask me what my interests are and show me all the different options available in the church. Ask me personally!
My friend Roberta says youth and young adults can be the "active asset of bringing new ideas and a new view to situations."
Youth and young adults have many insights into the church — use us! Listen and take action. We can do so many things like read scripture, design a website, bake for coffee hour, sing in the choir, preach and even write articles. However, you have been in the church longer and know some of the ropes we have not even seen yet. So help us put our ideas into action!
There are many issues that we take very seriously as young Christians. For example, the church is in a unique place to talk about sexuality and faith. Our bodies are changing and the secular world is bombarding us with information about sex and dating. We could use a little guidance. Please don't tell us what to do or what not to do as if the situation is black and white.
But you can give us a place to honestly ask questions and think about how our faith may inform our decisions at this time in our lives. The Our Whole Lives curriculum is a great program to provide such space, and it's a wonderful way to bond with other youth in the church.
Well, here you go church! We love you. We need you. We care. And we know deep down in our hearts that you need us, too. Who else is going to carry on the amazing legacy that is the United Church of Christ?
My friend Meredith sums it up nicely: "Youth and young adults need to be empowered to sustain the church movement and act as Christian leaders seeking a just world."
So here is our challenge to you: reach out to us; encourage us; invite us to the table; and treat us as whole, vital members of the church. Oh yeah, and could you send me a care package?
Young people of the UCC
Kendra Purscell serves on the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries and the Wider Church Min-istries Board of Directors. She ives in Des Moines, Iowa, where she is a Choral Music Education major at Drake University.
Kelly Forbush serves on the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries. She lives in Northampton, Mass., where she leads the Ecumenical Christian Community at Smith College. Next year she will attend seminary to study to become an ordained UCC minister.