Looking to the future

From June 11 to 13, 2015 the 47th session of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference took place in Salem, Oregon. Of the 430 members attending Annual Conference, 4 were youth representing each of the districts of the Conference. At Annual Conference the youth delegates and the pages form a group that spends most of their time together with Youth Coordinator.
Youth take Bishop Hagiya out for dinner at
Annual Conference 2015 (Bill Volmer Photo)
This year it was Anna Eckelbarger Salas. In this group the youth bond as young people from around the conference. They talk about the church, and their lives. This community shares and discusses ideas effecting young people both in the church and outside. They also have activities and play games; creating a bond that, even though they only see each other a few times a year, connects these young people together.
I have had the honor of serving as the youth equalization delegate from Columbia District for the past five years, and have spoken to many young people: delegates, pages, and friends, about the role of youth in the church. Many of us feel that the youth voice goes unheard in most formal settings with the church. We hear, "we need more of them," but that focuses on the problem, not creating solutions. That is why I am honored to be the First Alternate Lay Delegate to General Conference from the Oregon-Idaho Conference. I believe it will be beneficial for the delegation to have a youth voice present. It will help guide our thoughts and actions at General Conference to focus not only on the needs of the present, but also on the future of our church.
The youth are a very important part of the church's longevity, and youth are vanishing, especially in areas where the culture is shifting to a spiritual, but non-religious atmosphere. Most of the people I know involved in their churches do it because of the community. This is why strong youth programs pull and keep more youth. It's the community and connection the young people are seeking, but these youth are busy. Youth are involved in sports, in friends, and in hours of homework. Church, unless it becomes part of their being, is just a burden on Sunday morning.
The hardest part for aging young people is the transitions; the transition from child to youth, and youth to young adult. Transitions make staying with the church hard sometimes. And without support, it can be easy for young people to simply fade out of the church. When children are separated from the worship services for "Sunday schools" or other activities they do not learn the importance and strength given in the setting of the worship experience. And then, in many churches, they are somehow expected to jump straight into the worship service after reaching a certain age. This is the first major transition. And the question we must ask is how do we make the transition smoother and easier? The most effective way I have heard from people is having a youth group or even a young peoples group that can guide them through this transition while also giving a new purpose in coming to church – the community.
Next there is the transition to young adult. The college move. How do we keep young people in the church when they can’t be at our church? This is a very difficult question to ask because it requires both motivation from the young person as well as the church organization. For those youth that had a strong connection to their local church growing up, sometimes it is hard to get involved in a new church closer to their college setting. Sometimes these people come back to a church after college or jobs or when they have a family, but how can the church keep these people when everything around them is changing? The church could be our constant. As a student about to leave for college, I know constants are needed. A lot of stuff is going to change for me very soon, and is going to change for many other students as well.
Could the church be a constant for these youth in their changing world?
I believe it can.

Editors Note: Today Josh finished a summer internship at the Annual Conference office. He has spent the summer working to improve church websites and and enter data in the conference website. How he's "in transition" as he start his first day at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

Josh Hauser
Josh Hauser is the First Alternate Lay Delegate to The United Methodist General Conference in 2016 for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. He has served as a member of the Annual Conference for five years and is member of First United Methodist Church in Portland Oregon. A graduate of Franklin High School in Portland, he is a freshman at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, studying psychology and music.