Youth @ Synod: What brings young people to the UCC?
Participants in the youth program at the United Church of Christ’s 34th General Synod — Youth @ Synod — got to hear from and ask questions of the denomination’s Officers as the gathering wrapped up.
Outgoing General Minister and President the Rev. John Dorhauer, GMP-elect the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson and Associate General Minister the Rev. Traci Blackmon each met separately with the kids. The young UCC members were excited to engage with the Church leadership and jumped on their chance to ask questions.
They inquired about everything from favorite color and food (Dorhauer: yellow and eggplant; Thompson: pink and ethnic foods; Blackmon: also pink and the fried chicken sandwich at the Westin Hotel) to the most memorable events of their tenures and what are they are looking forward to in years to come.
But the true voices of the young people of the UCC came in their replies to questions from leadership: Why are they involved in the Church, and what will attract more young people in the future? What gifts do they bring?
One youth, Lyndsey, told the story of being brought up in another church where she wasn’t accepted because she identified as queer. Today, she declared, she has found a home in the UCC.
“I came from a place where I felt I didn’t belong, to a church where I’m on a path to become ordained,” she said with emotion.
“This is your church,” replied Dorhauer, “and every generation has to stand up and own it for themselves. I’m proud of every one of you. Create the church you want to be a part of.”
A teen named Alyssa recalled being greeted at a previous Synod with so many Pride flags and pins that she had the courage to come out to her mother on the way home from the airport after the gathering.
Others said they felt at home in the UCC because they’d made so many friends there — some for their entire lives.
Thompson told those gathered that they should reimagine the ways people do things now, share opportunities and learn from each other.
“How does it feel to be the first woman and person of color to be in this position?” she was asked. “It’s still sinking in!” Thompson exclaimed.
She went on to encourage the youth to follow their own paths and shared that they may find mystery along the way.
“Sometimes the path takes us to where we need to be, not where we think we should be,” she said.
Social media is key
Thompson asked for advice on bringing more young people to the UCC, and the overwhelming response was the use of social media.
“I found a welcoming pastor on TikTok,” said one young woman, and that’s how she found her UCC church.
Another youth advised posting on multiple platforms in fun, interactive and engaging ways.
“You have to capture the attention of young people and let them know there are different ways of being a Christian than following old rules,” said one young man.
Another suggestion was to attract parents and to involve children from a very young age.
“Make church an experience,” one suggested. “Not just a get-in, get-out thing you have to do.”
Youth bring many gifts
Blackmon asked each of the youths to share what gifts they brought to their shared space. The list was long.
Elizabeth brought love. Malachi said he came with joy. William brought the gift of listening. Ashley said acceptance. Clarice brought open arms. Nico brought stories. Miranda came with happiness. Esperanza brought excitement. Jay came with empathy. And there were many more.
Blackmon said all these gifts were exactly what was needed in that room in that time.
The children asked her what made her most hopeful during Synod.
“We have elected the first woman of African descent as UCC president, and I’m really excited about that,” Blackmon replied.
She also said she’s hopeful about the resolutions that were passed, and that the Church has embraced the “Fifth Stream” as acknowledged by Dorhauer during plenary, asking forgiveness that the UCC left its Afro-Christian brothers and sisters out of its history for so long.
As did Dorhauer and Thompson, Blackmon said she didn’t expect to end up on the path that brought her to become a leader in the UCC. However, she encouraged the youth to remember that God is still speaking and to keep listening for God’s message for them.
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