A Defining Moment for Community of Christ Young Adults?

In President Veazey’s recent address, “A Defining Moment,” he focused a significant portion of his sermon on the needs and ministry of the Community of Christ’s young adults. In his call to action, he spoke directly to this audience saying, “Young adults, the church needs you. We need you now. We need you to help us become who we are all yearning to become.” As I heard the address and listened to the exclusive invitation I could not help but appreciate being a young adult within this denomination. Now is a defining moment, we have an opportunity to be leaders in the Church.

As I travel through the church community, I continue to hear from young adults who feel as though local and world church leaders do not hear their thoughts and opinions. They say that they feel marginalized and that their voice is not being taken seriously. I have often heard young adults lament that, at a local level, they are not given the leadership opportunities they seek. There appears to be consensus that while they feel emotionally and socially connected to “their parents’ church,” young adults struggle to identify with a movement that they feel is becoming increasingly conservative. 

Although I have compassion for my peers’ frustrations, I cannot honestly say that I share in their experience. In my home congregation I was encouraged to be an active participant in the weekly services, whether offering a testimony or sharing a ministry of music. I never felt ostracized because of my age; I only felt marginalized because of my own ignorance of scripture and church history. In adult Sunday school classes instructors continued to encourage me to ask questions and to contribute to the dialogue. The local pastor invited me, at age nineteen, to instruct the weekly Book of Mormon class. Within two years I accepted the call to the Office of Priest.  Immediately following my ordination I joined World Service Corps and traveled to the Philippines.

In both my profession and congregational life the church has continuously invested time and resources in me. In 2002, shortly after completing graduate school, I was hired to be the Site Coordinator at the Kirtland Temple. The Church entrusted a twenty-five year old with the management and preservation of its oldest house of worship. The Kirtland Temple was, and continues to be, a site where the message of the church is shared with tens of thousands of people from around the world. I became the Church’s public face to the local secular and regional church communities, and was placed in a position to assist with fundraising and the construction of a new $5 million dollar visitor and spiritual formation center. I was encouraged to voice my opinions throughout the design, fundraising, and construction phases of the project. The very first event to take place during the center’s dedication was a reception for former Kirtland Temple volunteers and interns. The center would not have been possible without the contributions and support of young adults. 

Outside of my experience at the Temple, I have witnessed young adults in the Kirtland congregation take on a variety of leadership roles. Four young adults have served on the pastoral team in the seven years I’ve been here. In October 2007 three young adults took the initiative to organize a weekly gathering for those seeking a place where they could share their deepest concerns for their family, health, and community; these Wednesday evening “devotions and discussions” continue today. Our young adults have organized garage sales, soup clubs, pancake breakfasts, Wii nights, book clubs, and a variety of other congregational activities that continue to meet our families’ and community’s needs. 

Church leadership has continuously increased the financial resources devoted to young adults over the past decade. A number of my college peers took advantage of the job opportunities offered through Transformation 2000. As church employees, they enjoyed the opportunities of both providing ministry in their fields and completing continuing education courses that have proved useful both in and outside of their careers.  Community of Christ also provides ample funding for World Service Corps – a program that sends young adults all over the world to experience the global church community. As a result of their WSC experience, many alumni have taken leadership positions within the church.

Each year, thousands of dollars is donated to the Community of Christ Leadership Program at Graceland University for scholarships and grants – this program provides young adults with education and leadership opportunities on which to build a foundation for future ministry and service within the Church. Additionally, the Church makes available internships that provide on-the-job training during the summer and winter months. The Kirtland Temple has benefited from the CCLP program as it provides summer interns who assist in the public programs offered at the historic sites.

I am not frustrated with the lack of opportunities given to the young adults of the church, but rather with the young adults who are so hesitant to commit themselves to the leadership opportunities within their congregation. It is my experience that young adults are often quick to criticize local leadership but slow to be “the change” they wish to see. Far to often we are happy to complain about dwindling attendance at Sunday services, but fail to attend regularly ourselves, let alone extended an invitation to another to join in worship. I am tired of listening to young adults’ excuses for not participating in congregational leadership and activities. The reality is that most simply prefer to sleep in on Sunday mornings.

I appreciated President Veazey’s invitation to the young adults to join church leadership in exploring “models of ministry, mission, and leadership [that will] open more doors for [their] participation.” I hope young adults will see this as a defining moment, and that they will become the leaders who create the communities of equality and justice they so often talk about.

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5 comments on “A Defining Moment for Community of Christ Young Adults?

  1. mattfrizzell says:

    Barb,

    Great counter-point to the general malaise many YA’s feel and express. There’s a risk that haunts all the complaints we hear in the church: self-fulfilled prophecy.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t real barriers to involvement in the church, however. On the one hand, you are right The opportunities and support IHQ actively provides and funds for YA’s in the church are there. I was a product of some of those initiatives early on, as was my wife. In the early 1990′s, Steve Veazey was responsible for the program that is now Church Leadership Program at Graceland.

    On the other hand, there is a chasm between traditional congregational life and life in these church institutions, however. For one, many of these programs comes with stipends, pay, etc., while congregational life is scratched out in complete volunteer fashion. It lives on willingness and tradition.

    It doesn’t seem to be common knowledge that denominations aren’t “big happy families” where certain structures that define the church are the same wherever you go. That’s more the experience of religious sects and franchise America. Denny’s is the same wherever you go.

    The reality is, YA’s have to find a way to take root wherever they are. And, I lament that many of them don’t find a good connection. Unfortunately, the picture you paint true! YA’s are not dramatically different from most Americans. We want those opportunities for involvement provided for us, rather than fight to make them. Some will call this a stereo-type. But, that’s short-sighted. It’s much more nuanced than that.

    One of the last great aspects of Churches in America is that they are some of the last great completely volunteer institutions. The backbone of the church are those who make it what it is. Our tradition of looking to Independence is a barrier we must overcome. The future of the church is not in those opportunity Independence provides for us. At best, they can prime the pump.

    The other hurdle is a customer attitude. Reality is, human community is a product of human labor. We all must contribute. This isn’t some truism or ideal, but a material fact of the church and human community. Each generation has its frame of ideas and expectations to overcome. Each also brings a unique gift. To even talk about YA’s is to recognize that the church doesn’t make, but rides the waves of history.

  2. Karli Smith says:

    Interesting thoughts.

    Here in Australia there are many, many opportunities for YA’s to develop leadership/education/training etc skills within the church, in most areas. It has certainly been my experience, whilst I recognise not neccessarily the experience of others. I’d even go so far as to say the other end of the scale is present — there are sometimes toooo many ‘leadership’ roles or expectations thrown our way. “Let’s get one of the young people to do it” has become, at times, a bit of a token line.

    Remember to look outside the American YA population! Yes whilst it’s fantastic that GU has a great CCLP program that’s Church funded, WSC, etc etc– it’s all American based– how is the world church supporting, financially (as well as non), YA’s in other areas of the world in similar training/development experiences?

    • Barb Walden says:

      Thank you for sharing a perspective outside of my traditional North American views/experience.

      While travelling throughout the Philippines and Tahiti, I loved observing the large numbers of YAs involved in local church leadership. In some cases, they were the ones keeping the local congregation afloat. As a site director, I have also appreciated the WSC volunteers who travel each year to participate in the international guide program at the historic sites. We have had young adults from Kenya, Philippines, India, Netherlands, Russia, and even a few Australians participate over the past five years. They have made a huge contribution to our visitors understanding of the Community of Christ as a world church.

  3. Cindy Campbell says:

    I am Counselor to the Florida Mission Center President for young adult ministries and contribute to a monthly FMC newsletter. Is it alright with you if I quote some of these stories you have posted for our young and old to read in FL?

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