Youth and young people a major theme at annual conference
By Meagan Ewton
Among the ministry reports and district celebrations, an unplanned theme emerged: the Oklahoma Conference needs to improve its ministry to youth and young people.
“Even our big churches in the conference don’t have college aged groups,” said Monica Hiller during the laity session of annual conference. “If we are going to build this church, God’s church for posterity, we have to create spaces for God’s young people.”
Hiller, associate lay leader for the annual conference, presented the Youth and Young People report along with two fellow Board of Laity members: Corey Shirey, youth pastor at OKC-Wesley, and Kyla Powers, chair of the Council on Youth. The three leaders spoke about the realities of the conference’s engagement with youth and young people.
“If you don’t have any young adults like us in your congregations, ask yourself, Why? Every town and city in Oklahoma has untapped young adults who are hungry for community and family,” Hiller said during the general business session. “There’s a big group of us with no spouses and no children, help us find a place to go.”
Shirey said he hears a lot of comments about a lack of resources when it comes to outreach for youth and young people. He compared the seeming lack of resources to Jesus feeding the 4,000 with a few loaves and fish.
“We are looking for an intentional, community focused, mission doing, relationship building, Jesus loving church,” Shirey said. “A church that is willing to feed a crowd of 4,000 with the few loaves of bread the few fish we have. That is our mission: to feed so that they won’t collapse. Not to leave those who we brought up in our children’s ministries and our youth groups to flounder once they reach adulthood.”
Ministry with and for young people was mentioned several times during the annual conference. During opening worship on May 25, Rev. Bessie Hamilton shared about The Apprentice Project, a program designed to create intercultural opportunities for young ministry leaders.
“I believe our future is in young people leading us by breaking down the walls that have divided us for so long,” Hamilton said. “We who are left here must embrace those who are still here. There is still work for us to do.”
Rev. Chris Tiger discussed a new mission through New and Revitalized Communities called ImpactOK2. The residency program aims to help churches strengthen or develop ministries aimed at youth and young people while giving young ministry leaders the opportunity to grow in leadership. Viafaith McCullough, a former Ethnic Young Adult intern with the Global Board of Church and Society, spoke during the report.
“Now more than ever, young people are hungry for a message of hope, a message of peace and identity,” McCullough said.
Youth and young people were a focus of the Board of Ordained Ministry’s report as well.
“We’ve heard a lot about how young people are our future, but I believe that young people are our now. It is not about the future, it is about now,” said Brandon Blacksten, vice chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry and dean of the Bi-Vocational Academy. “It is the work of the entire church to equip the next generation of Christian leaders.”
In the Youth and Young People report, Kyla Powers addressed a visibly noticeable difference between the 2022 conference and those previously held in person: a lack of youth delegation in the front two rows due to a logistical change. She said that one way to support youth is for churches to continue the tradition of offering a delegate role to a member of their church’s youth.
“I myself have grown up as a youth delegate, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not had that opportunity,” Powers said. “It made me feel loved, and important enough to have a hand in the future of not only my church, but the lives of those I cared about as well. I know plenty of former youth delegates who feel exactly the same. The youth are our future, and conference will never be the same without them.”
Shirey said young people aren’t looking for flash or fog machines, but for adult small groups, inclusion in leadership, and loving hearts.
“I’m supposed to tell you some huge inspirational and actionable thing that you can do, something you can take back to your local church to bring young people into your pews and into your Sunday school classes,” Shirey said. “Well I don’t know about inspirational, but I do have this: Be there. Be present. Be intentional.”