It has been more than a week since I wrote last – a lot has happened in that week. Last Tuesday and Wednesday I was in Columbia, MO for a conversation among the conference’s younger clergy, Bishop Schnase, and a few of the conference staff (more on that below). Then Thursday and Friday my family drove to Wisconsin for a family funeral. Saturday was a day of rest and Sabbath for us. Then Sunday happened, with all of its activity and hubbub. So I haven’t had much time to sit and write, though I do have a lot of stuff in my noodle that needs to get written down.
I think the Bishop’s conversation with young clergy was really good. I’m pretty sure I was the oldest young clergy there at age 37, and I’m not really sure where the cap is on that category, but I felt like we had a lot of time to talk about a lot of things the conference is dealing with – and not just as token young people, but as conversation partners with the Bishop. The people there were either commissioned or ordained, and they were all Caucasian, and they were almost all men – so there definitely were some people left out of the conversation.
We talked about a LOT of stuff – youth ministry, church camp, blogging, Facebook, worship, apportionments, church planting, training events, Annual Conference. And I had to leave before the group got together to come up with a letter or statement or something for the Bishop to take to the Conference Council meeting the following day. That was the final thing the group did on Wednesday afternoon.
My favorite moment of the two days was the “Don’t try so hard” moment. Bishop Schnase was asking about blogging and how often and what content and should he post pictures and what about Facebook and should he have a profile and … someone said, “Just don’t try so hard.” But I completely understand where he is coming from. Everything he says and does has the extra weight of being said and/or done by a Bishop.
I think I actually saw a light bulb above his head, though, when he realized that being real about who you are and not worrying so much about that extra Episcopal weight is one of the most important values shared by people of younger generations. Authority is carried a lot differently by people in their 20s and 30s than their parents and grandparents.
For example, the Board of Ordained Ministry pushed me on my ideas about pastoral authority back when I was up for my ordination interview. I think the root cause of that point of disagreement was a generational conflict in what “authority” is. I was thinking of authority as an aspect of community and of relationship, something that is earned via trust and respect. That was rubbing up against an idea of authority as an aspect of position and rank, something that is given to an individual through a hierarchical system like the church.
Similarly, I think that Bishop Schnase’s “Don’t try so hard” moment came as he realized that his authority with the people in that room came not because the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church had elected him Bishop, but because we all like him and trust him and respect him for who he is. So if you have an idea and you want to post it to your blog, post it! If you see a cool thing and you want to share it, take a picture with your fancy new iPhone and share it!
It is better to be authentically who you are than to be overly concerned about what someone else thinks your role should be. That’s what “don’t try so hard” means to me.
My favorite personal moment from the two days was when I offered the suggestion that we needn’t worry so much about high schoolers leaving the church when they go off to college. In fact, I think we should encourage it! We should let them go, and figure out how to be the church for them wherever they land.
There is a lot of anxiety about young people leaving the church – but what better time of life to be going away, cutting the ties of childhood, figuring out who you are going to be in your adult life than the years right after high school? Maybe we should concentrate more on equipping them to be faithful disciples than to be good church members, then when they decide to leave the church, they’ll be more secure in their identity and therefore more likely to one day return.
I do not think that my suggestion was very well received – at least there wasn’t really any further conversation about it.
And my favorite all-around moment of the two days was simply being together with young people in ministry. There is just a different vibe in the room. We hung out, shared some things, disagreed about stuff, laughed a lot, talked about our passions, shared personal stories about families and friends, envisioned ministry as it could/should be, and just generally had a good time together. We got our picture taken by a big fake moose. We went to Jazz for supper and made jokes about Coonass. We reflected on the possible meanings of a bumper sticker claiming, “My Other Car is Made of Meat.”
One informal conversation pondered the viability of a Fantasy Church League where we could choose various ministries from various congregations and accumulate points on a weekly basis, like Fantasy Football except with Church! We’re already tracking attendance, baptism, and mission numbers online, Fantasy Church can’t be too far away.
The future of the United Methodist Church is bright, I think because younger people seem to know better how to get along with one another as colleagues and friends. I hope we never lose that. Somebody smack me if I do. Like this: