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Second "Come To The Feast" Trains 300 Young Adult Ministry Leaders

            May 29, 2000, CHICAGO, Ill. – All the elements to appeal to today’s young adult worshipers were there – soft lights and candles, a message delivered from an on-stage podium, high energy contemporary music led by a live band, lyrics projected onto a big screen. 

            The more than 300 who packed the Westin River North’s Grand Ballroom – most of them 18 to 30somethings – stood and rocked to a pop tune adaptation: “I just want to thank you, Jesus.  How sweet it is to be loved by You!”   

            Then it was time to share Holy Communion, and participants found themselves squarely within mainline church tradition.  The flow of words on the big screen now moved participants through the liturgy:  “Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.”  “The Lord be with you.  And also with you.”  “The table is set.  All are welcome.” 

            The occasion was opening worship at an ecumenical young adult ministry training event, held May 26-29 in Chicago, sponsored by the National Council of Churches’ Young Adult Ministry Team.   

Its theme, “Come to the Feast,” is based on Luke 14, foreshadowing the Heavenly Banquet in which the host extends a broad invitation to “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame,” compelling people to come in “so that my house may be filled.” 

This second NCC-sponsored young adult ministry event – the first drew 250 to Atlanta in 1998 – featured daily worship, plenaries, small group meetings and a veritable smorgasbord of workshops that both discussed and modeled ministry “how tos.”  Saturday afternoon’s offerings included service opportunities at two Chicago shelters. 

Content was a mix of “techniques” and “values” undergirded by cultural analysis of today’s young adults – the “Gen Xers,” “Postmoderns,” “Baby Busters” and “Thirteeners” born between, roughly, 1965-1980. 

“It’s the least churched generation in our nation’s history,” said Rodger Nishioka, a Presbyterian who is Associate Professor of Christian Education and Youth & Young Adult Ministry at the Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Ga.   

Nishioka acknowledged that most of the denominations represented at the event have lost members – or at the very least “aren’t attracting people in their 20s and 30s” by and large, but then quickly asserted, “What’s at stake isn’t denominational membership.  Our goal isn’t to make more Presbyterians or Episcopalians.  What’s at stake is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” 

Over the course of the event’s four days, leaders shared practical tools for evaluating young adults’ needs, starting and maintaining a young adult ministry, incorporating a broad range of music and worship expressions, leading a mission trip or work camp and using technology including e-mail and the World Wide Web. 

As skills building proceeded, a pattern of values emerged, including inclusiveness of race, class, age, gender and so forth rather than an approach built on cultural homogeneity or segregation by age group, for example.   

In worship and workshops, participants explored how to express the Gospel in fresh, contemporary ways while remaining rooted in and enriched by the mainline’s historic faith traditions. 

Participants sampled a wide variety of resources, from rock and reggae to contemporary praise and the offerings of the Taize Community in France.  Christopher Grundy, associate pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Lawrence, Kansas, who wrote the “Come to the Feast” celebratory theme song, led a workshop on writing contemporary music for the mainline churches. 

Speakers explored the tension between a culture that values consumption, individualism and self-seeking and young adults’ “yearning to make a difference.”  

Pauline Muchina, a Kenyan Anglican who this spring earned her doctorate from Union Theological Seminary, described the pressure to “’network’ only with those in a position to help my cause, to think, ‘Can this person offer me a job?’”  But our faith calls us “to share with others who aren’t necessarily able to give anything back to us,” she said. 

Rodger Nishioka described an Omaha, Neb., congregation that once a month moves its 9:15 a.m. worship service to a Habitat for Humanity work site.  After a 20-minute service and plenty of good coffee, worshipers work for two and a half hours.  That service attracts “double the number of young adults,” he reported, and challenged his audience, “If your church doesn’t make a difference in your community, why bother?” 

The following denominations and other ministries were represented at “Come to the Feast”:  American Baptist/Baptist, Catholic, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Church of the Brethren, Episcopal/Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran/Lutheran, Presbyterian Church USA/Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, Unitarian Universalist, African Methodist Episcopal, Onesimus Christian Ministries (India), and the World Council of Churches. 


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