There are approximately 120 Delegates to General Conference that match the disciplinary language of being 35 years of age or younger. In some regions of the church, the age for a young adult goes up to 40 which would increase this number. Of those 120 Delegates, approximately 40 are Alternate or Reserve Delegates. That said, the number of young people serving at Jurisdictional Conference, Central Conference, and Annual Conference meetings should be taken into account, as larger numbers of young people often serve in those bodies.
I am the Director of Young People’s Ministries at Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Discipleship Ministries, Young People’s Ministries, and the Division on Ministries with Young People (DMYP) have shared the concern that meeting planning dates and times disproportionally challenge young people for years. We have offered several petitions seeking to strengthen language in the Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions related to meeting accessibility for students, young professionals, as well as teachers and others involved in academics. Recognizing the schedule limitations that academic calendars and limited vacation/leave for young professionals face is an important consideration for meeting planners at every level of the church, from local church committees to gatherings with larger scopes like Annual, Jurisdictional, Central, or General Conference.
I’ve signed this letter. It is true that August and September dates will pose significant challenges for young delegates, other young people who would want to attend this historic gathering, and those who serve those age groups professionally. Discipleship Ministries and the Division on Ministries with Young People (DMYP) have worked very hard and in conjunction to accommodate the schedules of young people serving on our boards.
As a staff person who helps plan and organize both the quadrennial YOUTH and Global Young People’s Convocation (GYPC) events, I share an understanding of the challenges that the Commission on General Conference is facing in finding new dates for General Conference 2020. There will never be a perfect date, location, or cost for an event of this magnitude. Even the traditional May dates for General Conference often conflict with end of term exams, finals, and recitals which cannot be rescheduled. Academic institutions around the world work on different schedules and maintain different requirements for their students, so looking for windows of opportunity on the calendar takes time, research, and diligence. Generally, we have identified a 2-3 week block of time in July that allows for maximum potential participation from students for the YOUTH event and GYPC, and that window of time seems to get smaller every year.
I have faith that the planners of General Conference are offering their best efforts to find times and locations that allow for full participation and representation of young people. I also know that they are trouble shooting a unique situation regarding the delays caused by COVID-19 responses. There may never be perfect dates or locations for an event that is the scope and size of General Conference. That said, it is incumbent upon leadership to advocate and plan gatherings for times when young people can participate. Any participant in church meetings is giving their time, skills, and resources as a servant to the church. Offering their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to the church always comes with a sacrifice of time and energy. Leaders must pay attention to the amount of time and money that they ask young people to sacrifice in order to make their voices heard at church meetings.
This is a tremendous opportunity for the UMC to look at how it plans meetings at every level of the church, and remind itself to schedule meetings at times, and in locations, where young people, students, young professionals and others who are often lay people with limited availability or time off from academics or work can fully participate and serve the church. Young people have a strong desire to serve and lead, and only those who plan and create schedules for church meetings have the power to ensure young people have the chance to passionately serve and share their gifts.
So I ask you, ministry leader…How are you planning your meetings and advocating for the participation of young people at committee and other organizational church meetings? Can you be an advocate? A place where change starts by getting your local church to host meetings at times when young people can fully and easily participate?