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"COME TO THE FEAST” MAY 26-31, TAMPA,
CREATIVE, RELEVANT YOUNG ADULT MINISTRIES
TAMPA, Fla.-- For those who are considered young adults, going to church can sometimes be…well, the last place you want to be. That is because many young adults have the perception that churches do not have programs or a worship style that meets their needs. However, with the help of a new format and lots of enthusiasm, about 170 young adults participated in this year’s “Come To The Feast” (CTTF) gathering May 26-31 in Tampa, Fla., to find creative and relevant ways to develop young adult ministries in the local church.
The term “young adult” is loosely defined as those ranging in age from 18 to 30-something. “The Art of Ministry and Play” served as the theme for this fourth biennial gathering of young adults, which is organized by the National Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Young Adult Ministries Team.
This year’s CTTF event for the first time incorporated an experiential learning model to try to meet the diverse needs of those who have a leadership role with young adults at their church as well as for the young adults themselves. During the first two days, workshops were held for campus ministers, lay leaders of young adult ministry, denominational staff, pastors and others with responsibility in their church for young adult ministry.
The group that met in part one gathered around four themes: mobilizing, building community, expressing faith and renewing. The groups discussed the issues pertaining to their theme, talked about models and best practices for ministry and collaborated to develop labs and workshops that could be offered to the participants that came for part two. The workshops and labs were also developed such that they would apply to ministry in the local context.
Following a day of organizing, the second part of CTTF put to the test the 20 workshops designed by those in the first part. In part two, North American young adults from coast-to-coast, including 11 from Canada, had the opportunity to learn, be energized and renewed through worship and fellowship, and get ideas about programs and activities they could take back to their local congregation.
“One of the biggest reasons people ‘come to the feast’ is that it fills a void that they see in their churches,” said the Rev. Garland Pierce, NCC Associate Director for Education and Leadership Ministries. “It also equips leaders and churches to minister to and with young adults and at the same time provides an opportunity for leadership development, fellowship and networking for young adults who are already present in the churches.”
The lab titles themselves gave a hint that this was no traditional group of church folks. Workshops such as “Popcorn Theology,” “Theology on Tap,” “The Trouble with Faith and Feminism,” “Tools for Faithful Discussion of Difficult Issues,” “Brady Bunch Ministry” and “Keep It Simply Spiritual” were indicative of the unique concerns that young adults have as they seek to live faithfully in the context of the local church and their denominational structure.
The Rev. Douglas Fenton, staff officer of Young Adult and Higher Education Ministry for The Episcopal Church along with Bill Crenshaw, director of Young Adult Ministries at the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church, introduced this model to the Young Adult Ministry Team. The new model was to serve two purposes: to equip young adult leaders and provide spiritual enrichment and fellowship to young adults -- the two groups that most often attend the CTTF gathering.
“The model definitely worked,” said the Rev. Pierce. “We heard from a number of participants and leaders who said it was a renewing experience and they left energized to do young adult ministry. Someone used the word ‘transformative’ to describe the experience. So much of the leadership and the creativity came from the young adults themselves. It was really exciting to see the energy of part one conveyed to part two.”
According to Karen Cramer, an Episcopalian young adult from Salt Lake City, Utah, who participated in both part one and part two of CTTF said, “I was a little skeptical at first. I wasn’t sure how it would work but it all came together and it was great! It was extremely helpful and energizing. I have plenty of new ideas to take back to my home church.” Cramer was on of the organizers and facilitators of the “Popcorn Theology” workshop.
Part two of CTTF abounded with practical examples for young adult ministries. In one session about faith expressions for young adults, Kara Lassen-Oliver, one of the conveners of the “Expressing Faith” track, said, “People need a way into the church so that they feel comfortable. There is a big gap for young adults in the church and we’re here to get something started.” Lassen-Oliver, who is a United Methodist from Nashville, Tenn., recommended that churches find ways to have young adults feel involved in the worship experience, not that worship is done “to” them. She recommended simple actions that could make a difference like placing a flower on the altar whenever a baby is born or having worship services dedicated to young adults. She also suggested establishing a core team for prayer to undergird efforts to attract young adults to a congregation.
In addition to the labs, vibrant worship services were held daily. The Rev. Mienda Uriarte, Coordinator for Youth and Young Adults of the Presbyterian Church (USA), designed the services. Zehnder, a band out of Los Angeles, Calif. led by twin brothers Tim and Tom Zehnder, provided praise and worship music for CTTF services. The brothers -- who are active in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and have been writing songs and stories since they were 10 years old -- also held a workshop on music ministry in the church.
According to Tim Zehnder, they try to encompass the diversity of the church into their music, not the least of which includes having a cello player as part of their band.
“We try to focus on global worship and incorporate a whole range of music including traditional and contemporary styles. We decided not to go with what’s separate in the church but those things that bring us together,” he said.
The band was a big hit with participants. On several occasions, young adults left their seats for impromptu liturgical dance performances to their music.
“The worship was inspiring. The diversity of the music in worship and the litanies all added to the success of the event,” said the Rev. Pierce.
One worship service was held on Thursday, May 27, in conjunction with NCC and other churches around the country that memorialized all those who have died in the Iraq war. For the young adults present at CTTF, this was particularly meaningful. In their midst was a young man who serves in the Marine Corps and who was in Iraq for six months. Western Chase, who is from East Lansing, Mich., attended CTTF to get tools to work with young adults in his home church. As someone who was in the middle of the conflict in Iraq, he said he appreciated the memorial service. He also shared openly his views opposing the war, his testimony about being there, and his prayers that the conflict will end soon.
For him, CTTF was somewhat of a reprieve since he will have to go back to Iraq at the end of August. When asked how the week’s activities were for him he said, “This was great. Everything was great. I enjoyed the workshops and the fellowship. I also have a lot more people praying for me now.”
The National Council of Churches Ecumenical Young Adult Ministries Team held its first “Come To The Feast” gathering in 1998 as a leadership development event as well as a vehicle through which young adults could gain a broader view of the Church beyond their local church, region or even their denominational perspective. It is also a time when young adults can get informed about some of the critical issues in the ecumenical movement. CTTF seeks to help meet the needs of young adults presently attending church and to draw others to the church.
Others giving leadership to CTTF included: Courtney Richards, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Christopher Carpenter, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Rev. June Botwell, United Church of Christ; Vielka Guido, The Episcopal Church; Jonathan Hemphill, ELCA; Bill Crenshaw, United Methodist Church; Brian Smith, The Episcopal Church; Reggie Weaver, Presbyterian Church (USA); Heather Dillashaw, United Church of Christ; Dianha Ortega-Ehreth, ELCA, and Joseph Lyons, Unitarian Universalist Association.
Young adults representing the United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), the Mennonite Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Canada, Anglican Church of Canada, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and Unitarian Universalist Association were present at this year’s CTTF.
CTTF is the NCC’s Ecumenical Young Adult Ministries Team’s signature young adult leadership development and ecumenical formation ministry project. Previous CTTF events were held in Atlanta, Chicago and San Diego. The next CTTF is scheduled for 2006.
Pictured: (top) Christopher Carpenter of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America makes announcements before worship. The breads on the table represent the "feast" theme; (bottom) Will and Brady Bradford of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the band Zehnder lead "Come to the Feast" participants in worship. Photos by Leslie Tune for the NCC.
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