1998 NCC News Archives

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Young Adults From Across the Nation
"Come to the Feast"

By Kelly Holton, Associate Editor
Wesleyan Christian Advocate*

ATLANTA, Ga., May 25, 1998 -- A Memorial Day weekend conference in Atlanta took young adults and young adult leaders across denominational lines to celebrate their common ministries and enhance efforts to reach young people with the message of Christ.

"Come to the Feast," an ecumenical training event sponsored by the Young Adult Ministry Team of the National Council of Churches, offered participants the chance to see the best in young adult ministry around the country. Through workshops, service projects, shared music and worship opportunities, those at the event came together as the body of Christ to share their stories of faith and and learn creative, effective ways to be in ministry to young adults.

The ecumenical nature of the gathering helped Tambitha Blanks understand more about similarities than differences. For Blanks, a member of a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) young adult fellowship in Fort Myers, Fla., one of the most meaningful experiences of the event was "seeing we all serve one God. Everybody is enriched and fulfilled in the their way of serving God."

Bible study leader Dr. Minka Sprague, professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages at New York Theological Seminary, also looked for common ground in her studies throughout the event. She sees the Bible as a tool that "anchors us in space and time and waits for us to get relevant so we can see the words. We need to find ways to read it together."

Sprague, a deacon in the Episcopal Church, argues that finding common ways to read scripture will go a long way toward making members of different faith traditions one body in Christ. Her studies for the event included a walk through the Creation story of Genesis 1:1-2:3 "to talk about how finely tuned God’s design is." Sprague noted that humans are the only creatures not named for their movement; we are named instead for being made in the image of God. "We are each of us only half an image of God," she said. "We are designed ... to be with each other and looking for the other in all sorts of ways."

Looking for the other and making room for others requires Christians to follow Jesus’ example of living life as a guest, argues Sprague.

"He does his life as guest," she said. "He is our guest as the Christ. We are called to be incarnate like him. To do that we have to change our concept of hospitality. It’s not our party even when it looks like it is.

"In creation, like Jesus, we are the guest. ... To be the guest, we are to take the stillness of the image ... and be with God in creation. Then we can give it out and walk it forward and be the body of Christ."

The image of the guest was played out in the training event’s theme, "Come to the Feast," and in the array of workshops, service opportunities and times for worship and fellowship offered to the diverse group. More than 240 participated, sharing their methods and ideas for effective ministry with young adults. Workshops dealt with matters ranging from living out faith at work, challenging racism, and spiritual nurture for the self to the nuts and bolts of building a young adult and college ministry and the challenges for reaching the post-modern generation and making ecumenism work at the local level.

Leadership for the event came from 10 denominations: African Methodist Episcopal, American Baptist Churches, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, General Conference Mennonite Church, Presbyterian Church, USA, United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church. Participants at the workshop represented all these faith traditions (except Mennonite), with the addition of one Southern Baptist, several Catholics and a member of the Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe.

Service opportunities allowed participants to get to know each other and Atlanta in a more intimate way. The Rev. Thomas Rice, associate pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in DeKalb, Ill., helped paint a hallway at the William Holmes Borders House, a community home for men recovering from drug addiction.

"As a young adult minister to young adults, I feel service projects are essential," said Rice. "They build community; they inspire and they teach."

The service opportunities -- another group washed windows at the Salvation Army Booth Towers -- gave participants a chance to make the ideas they learned during the conference more meaningful, said Liz Bidgood, who along with fellow Church of the Brethren member and Richmond, Ind., seminary student Greg Enders, coordinated the service projects. "I think we show our faith through our actions. As Christ has welcomed us, we welcome others. It’s important to learn and discuss topics, but Jesus was a man of action. It wasn’t enough for Jesus to just talk about God. I think we’re called to live out our faith."

Keynote speaker Andrew Young also called on the group to live out their faith, recognizing that young adulthood is a time "when things get stirred up and ... something upsets the tranquility. Out of struggle comes success."

Young encouraged those in ministry with young adults to open themselves to new ways of making the message of Jesus relevant and appealing to young people. He said the problems of this generation are, in his view, largely spiritual, resulting from an inability to find meaning in life.

"The challenge of our ministry is to create over McDonald’s hamburgers and French fries a sacramental situation. Let young people know God is present in the midst of them."

The grace of God will lead young people through the turbulence and trouble of the times, said Young. "There’s nothing you can’t understand in faith."

The Rev. Minerva Carcano, a United Methodist pastor and director of the Mexican American Program at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, also spoke of the troubling times that face all Christians, times when one can do nothing but yearn for the presence of Jesus. In her sermon during the closing worship service, Carcano described one such time in her own life. During a second miscarriage in the fourth month of pregnancy, this one on Christmas Eve, she was placed alone in an operating room to await the procedure that would terminate her pregnancy.

Carcano prayed, she said, because pray was all she could do. She felt the comforting presence of Jesus and also the loving presence of nurses she knew from her congregation. These women, Carcano learned later, were not scheduled to work Christmas Eve, but a shortage of nurses brought them in. For Carcano, this beautiful mystery is proof of Jesus’ divine help to her in a period of bleak darkness and the need for Christian community that should extend even beyond denominational boundaries.

"It is together that we will discern the presence of Jesus on our journey of faith," she said. "There will come moments when Jesus just appears. He’ll explode our expectations. He’ll shatter structures that feel really comfortable to you and me."

As a leader of an ecumenical ministry in New Mexico, Carcano learned first hand the beauty that can emerge when familiar structures like denominational identity are stripped away. She says the experience changed her ministry, as she watched "mean, crusty Christians" open their hearts and their churches to others.

"There are things that can only be learned collectively," she said. "The journey of faith is lived out in community. We help each other to see Jesus. We nurture, support, love and affirm each other’s discipleship. As we journey, Jesus will be with us."


*The Wesleyan Christian Advocate is the official newsweekly for United Methodists in Georgia.

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