The results of the elections for General Conference delegates this year leave us with a serious question. Do we mean it when we say our young people are important to us, that their voices are vital to today’s decisions for our future, that we want new young voices at the table?
I am grateful and humbled to be elected as a North Central Jurisdictional delegate from our conference. I also am thankful for the faithful leaders we elected and am excited that a number of young adults were elected as jurisdictional representatives and reserves. At the same time, both as a 39-year-old no longer considered a young adult myself and as the Associate Director of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministries, I am saddened and feel compelled to share the disappointment that none of the voting General Conference delegates from Indiana are young adults (defined as under 35 years) or youth. As I travel the state and listen to our young adult leaders, this question is raised repeatedly: Do those in leadership really want our voice at the table? Do they actually care what we think?
While the voiced answer is always “yes,” our voting sent a different message. If those who voted represent the leadership of our conference – the pastors and key lay leadership of all of our local churches – the message of the voting carries implications and perceptions that may not be our intention.
Our voting suggests that young adults aren’t ready to make important General Conference decisions. It implies while other conferences made a direct effort to elect young adults (some as the leaders of their voting delegation), we in the Indiana Conference didn’t set young adult representation as a priority. It means that the future of our church will be decided without any new young voices from Indiana at the table.
Some have said, in future conferences, the young adults will need to be better organized, that they weren’t elected because they didn’t organize politically. Perhaps this is true, but is this the message we want to send, that we aren’t ready to elect any young adults unless they get politically organized? The other part of this message is that somehow this young voting minority, that is less than five percent of clergy, should have been responsible for electing one of its own.
I have full trust that our voting General Conference delegation will seek to hear the ideas and opinions of young adults in Indiana as they prepare to vote on the Call to Action and other vital, future-focused initiatives. At the same time, I want to convey the questioning of young adults who hear our conference saying we want to empower and raise up a younger generation of leaders, but see an opportunity missed to make room for younger voices as voting leaders from our midst.
Our biblical witness is filled with examples of faithful young adult leaders and faithful leaders of God’s people who mentor and empower their ministry. I pray that as we look to the future of the Indiana Conference, when we say we want younger voices and leaders in our midst, our actions will support our intentions as we empower capable young leaders as voting delegates.