ALCOA, Tenn. (May 15, 2019) -- Leaders of several ministries and teams are uniting to ask the Holston Annual Conference to elect a minimum of two young-adult delegates at its upcoming June 9-12 meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C.
So far, more than 70 representatives of camps, campuses, youth ministry, and other groups have signed a statement calling for the election of younger delegates to represent Holston at General Conference 2020. The list of supporters is growing.
“We are acutely aware no church can survive or thrive without young people and new voices investing in its leadership,” according to the May 7 statement addressed to Holston Annual Conference.
Laura McLean, associate director of connectional ministries for youth and young adults, said the effort to elect young delegates is a response to poor representation in past delegations.
“Denomination wide, only 7 percent of delegates to General Conference were under the age of 35,” McLean said. “We think that is unacceptable.”
Low support for young voices was called out in a “Young People’s Statement” signed by more than 15,000 and read aloud by delegates during General Conference 2019 in St. Louis. In all, 864 total elected delegates represented 12.6 million United Methodists worldwide.
“Over and over, bishops and delegates have told us from the floor here, they don’t want us to leave,” the St. Louis statement said. “But with all due respect, you are not fighting to keep us here. Only 7 percent of seated delegates are young people -- people under the age of 35.”
In Holston Conference, no more than one or two young persons have been elected in the last three elections: Casey Graves in 2007; the Rev. Wil Cantrell and Megan Watson in 2011; and Emily Ballard in 2015. With 12 total delegates representing Holston at the 2016 and 2019 sessions of General Conference, having one delegate under age 35 put Holston’s young-people representation at 8 percent.
The goal is to elect at least two young delegates to General Conference in this year’s election. “I truly believe that we have to listen to our young voices to guide us," McLean said.
The Holston Annual Conference is comprised of about 1,800 clergy and lay leaders representing 872 congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia. The election will occur throughout the June 9-12 meeting in Lake Junaluska, interspersed with church business and worship. Clergy will vote for six clergy delegates, and lay members will vote for six lay delegates to General Conference.
Among those who have signed Holston’s statement supporting young delegates are leaders of the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM), Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries, Wesley Foundations, Divine Rhythm Design Team, Resurrection Design Team, and Young Adult Ministry Team.
The Holston statement lists representatives of “ministries and teams that relate to, depend on, and support the young adults of Holston Conference.”
“I signed because it is painfully obvious that we are not bringing in enough young pastors in order to carry on the legacy of our longer serving colleagues,” said the Rev. Misti Dawn McCreary, associate pastor at First Broad Street United Methodist Church and a member of Holston’s Board of Higher Education and Higher Ministry.
“I’m nearly 40, and yet I am one of the youngest at our district and annual conferences,” McCreary said. “If we want to see our churches stay open to serve our communities in the generations to come, then we need to have more representation from those who will be serving those generations.”
The Rev. Jeff Wadley, director of Camp Bays Mountain, also signed the statement.
“Camp offered me one of my first Christian-based leadership positions, and that opportunity transformed my life,” he said. “With General Conference approaching, a gift to a qualified young adult would be a chance to represent Holston with a new perspective.”
Chris Wilterdink, director of Young People’s Ministries for The United Methodist Church, said nominees age 35 and under “deserve a serious look” if they are invested enough to throw their hats into the election ring.
“After all, there are many other organizations that make it easier for young people to be in leadership than the UMC does,” Wilterdink said. “If they are applying, it means they care about the legacy of the UMC in addition to caring deeply about its future.”
McLean said she hopes the Holston Annual Conference will “send a message of hope and example” by placing more young members into its leadership. Several other annual conferences also have groups advocating for the election of younger delegates, including North Alabama, Arkansas, Western North Carolina, Louisiana, Western Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
Members of the CCYM will wear special T-shirts and hand out buttons at Annual Conference on June 9-12, McLean said. The buttons will say, “I love younger voices. #MoreThan7%.”
For more information, email Laura McLean, associate director of connectional ministries for young people.
General Conference 2020 will be held May 5-15 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A website has been created where videos of young lay nominees are being added. Visit HolstonYoungVoices.com.
See the statement: Support for Young Adults in Holston
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.