Typhoon, debate, then unity: Holston participants return from young people's convocation in Philippines

Typhoon, debate, then unity: Holston participants return from young people's convocation in Philippines

Maddie Steiner and Paige Trent arrived in Tagaytay, Philippines, at 12:30 a.m. on July 16. It was the beginning of the first day of the Global Young People’s Convocation and Legislative Assembly.

Two hours later, the women were awakened and told to pack their things. Typhoon Rammasun had arrived, and their safety in the Center for Community Transformation, where they were staying, was threatened.

Strong winds and rain pounded on the building and eventually blew in the glass windows. Back home in Kingsport, Tenn., Steiner’s parents were worried.

“I wasn’t,” says Steiner. “We were in such good hands, and everyone in the room had such an aura of peace and trust in God.”

Steiner, age 18, and Trent, 25, were representatives of the Southeastern Jurisdiction during the United Methodist convocation, which meets every four years. Steiner and Trent are members at First Broad Street United Methodist Church and were selected by Holston’s connectional ministries staff.

About 300 United Methodists from 35 countries attended. Organized by the General Board of Discipleship, the convocation brings young people together to worship, share their stories, and contribute their voices to the legislative process.

Trent, an elementary school art teacher, had served as interim youth director at First Broad Street and was already a friend to Steiner before arriving in the Philippines. She also was not overly frightened by the storm, although the group was eventually evacuated to a new venue called Island Cove near Manila.

“We ran into difficulties with power outages and toilets not flushing,” Trent said, “but it all helped us to remember we were not there for luxury but to discuss and vote on legislative issues and to be with people from all over the world.”

As the group waited out the worst of the storm, sleepless and packed into a central room, they prayed and worshiped, Steiner said:

“Everyone started singing, and I learned songs in the African language, in Spanish, in Japanese, in the Filipino language … And it was absolutely amazing.”

After the story, the July 16-20 gathering allowed participants to present, discuss and vote on legislation. One piece of legislation called for the church to schedule meetings accommodating student schedules, to encourage and bring more young people into the decision-making process.

“When you think about any church committee, it’s planned around work schedules,” Steiner said. “General Conference always happens around exam time for college students. Couldn’t we push that back a little? We need to have our voices in our conference meetings.”

Four legislative pieces involved homosexuality which involved “a lot of heated debate,” Trent said. “It was interesting to hear that other countries’ views are very different than the U.S.”

Both Trent and Steiner said the highlight of the legislative assembly occurred during concluding worship, when participants from different nations who had earlier disagreed on homosexuality legislation came forward with a statement urging leaders of the denomination to “seek solutions that promote our global unity.”

“It was neat to see people who had been arguing and clashing get up together during closing worship and say, ‘We want to be united and we don’t want this one thing to divide us,’” Trent said.

“They were up there saying, ‘Unity in the church is more important than any, any, any issue,” Steiner said. “There’s so much more that unites us than divides us.”

Legislation approved by the Global Young People's Convocation will be submitted for the 2016 General Conference.