Connecting young adults

Network of 18- to 30-year-olds aims to improve resources, relationships, advocacy
October 31, 2005

When the young Adult Ministry Network met for the first time in 2004, 33 people came from 29 dioceses. They set goals and agreed to meet again in 2005 to “keep the momentum going.”

That momentum was not lacking when 140 young adults and young-adult ministers from 70 dioceses, including the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Taiwan, met in late September in Denver.

“The work [of] those who returned home … has strengthened the ministry with young adults that the national church is supporting prayerfully and financially,” said the Rev. Douglas Fenton, national church staff officer for young-adult and higher-education ministries.  

Fenton asked each diocese to send one young adult (between ages 18 and 30) and one young-adult “minister” to the conference.  They came from diverse backgrounds and programs – from parish young-adults groups to diocesan young-adult initiatives and campus ministries. The conference gave them an opportunity to connect with one another.

“It was inspiring,” said Katie Knoll, an undergraduate at the University of Kansas and a representative from the Diocese of Kansas, “to see how much work and dedication people put forth because they have faith in [young-adult] ministry.”

The Rev. Greg Syler, who works with young adults at the Church of Our Saviour in the Diocese of Chicago.  “Particularly helpful to me,” he said, “was the opportunity to meet and form relationships with other young clergy and lay-folk who not only want to do ministry with young adults but, being young adults themselves, are committed to translating the gospel of Jesus Christ and the catholic tradition of the Episcopal Church into the reality of 20- and 30-somethings.”

Building connections

“Lots of times in the church we create ministries out of fear and anxiety,” Ewart Jones, a network coordinating committee member from the Diocese of Texas, said at the beginning of the meeting.  “I’m here to tell you that this is not one of those times.  We’re here to create ministries in abundance and celebration.”

When the network was created in 2004 as part of a funding initiative from the 2003 General Convention, its purpose was to “build connections among diocesan representatives working in young adult ministry.” The first network meeting identified three priorities: developing resources of people, materials and programs, facilitating relationships [and] connections among people doing young adult ministry, and advocating for young adults in the life [and] structures of the church.

To further these goals, each representative at this meeting was asked to join one of three working groups: resources, relationships or advocacy.  “The way to keep young adults involved in the life of the church is give them leadership roles,” said Carlton Allen, a facilitator for the advocacy group from the Diocese of Northern California. 

“Empowering the young to make decisions about where our church is going is important so they don’t feel like they are just along for the ride.” With that in mind, the advocacy group focused on how young adults can become leaders in the church on all levels and how the network effectively can communicate to bishops and clergy the work of young adults and young adults ministries.

The resources group explored how to share programs and information with one another and those interested in beginning a young-adult ministry at the parish or diocesan level. Members of the group left the conference with plans to improve the information available to young-adult ministers, including creating a database of young-adult ministers and programs, developing a communication plan to advocate for young-adult ministry in the Episcopal Church and developing a statement of purpose for young-adult ministry in the Episcopal Church.

“I hope the resources group can pull together program models, sample calendars, recruitment strategies and pretty much anything else young adults can use to build a ministry in their own parish,” said Jill Brown, who leads a young-adults group at St. Columba’s in the Diocese of Washington.

The Relationships group also will focus on establishing regional relationships and utilizing the national website and YAMN listserv to form relationships and share information. The next national gathering of young adults will be the Young Adult Festival, which will be held during General Convention in June 2006. 

Mutual support

“Our goal in addressing relationships is to enable us to know that we are all connected in this ministry within the church and beyond,” said Carol Taylor, a relationship group facilitator and a representative of the Diocese of East Carolina. “We are seeking to find continued avenues to strength our ministry and support of each other through our relationships in the network.”

Many people left the conference as part of committees or groups that aim to help strengthen young-adult ministries throughout the church.  “It was a wonderful reminder,” said one attendee, “that I am not alone in my efforts to support … young adults in my parish, because I have the encouragement and resources of the national church.”

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