New season for Youth Ministry
| (L-r) Madi Stagner (Albion District), Rachel Krahulik (Lansing District), and Cheyenne Farr (Grand Traverse District) are officers of the new West Michigan CCYM.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WMC) – The report of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM) at the 2012 Annual Conference sent a ripple of surprise through the crowd. Anticipating another satirical presentation of the kind that has often delighted the Conference with humor and prophetic witness, persons instead heard a matter-of-fact statement by Joy Mills, Conference Youth Coordinator.
“I want you to understand,” Joy began, “that I know this program backwards and forwards and I have loved this program for the way that it has grown new leaders for The United Methodist Church throughout the last 30 years.” Naomi Garcia, Ministry Consultant for Youth Ministries, stood by her side as Joy went on to describe the decline that has been taking place "for some time" in Conference youth ministries.
“We lack a unifying vision, time and resources,” she continued. “There is a struggle to maintain the institution while also struggling with the ability to teach youth through outdated methods of leadership which are, frankly, not of interest to them.”
The announcement to suspend the current operations of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries was a stunning departure from the status quo for many but it did not represent a closed door. Joy went on to describe a “fallow time” that hopes to discern a new course of action for youth ministry in West Michigan. “We expect God-inspired youth ministries to begin no later than Annual Conference 2014,” she remarked.
The next months are intended to be an opportunity for redirection rather than recovery. “If where we are now is what we want in the future then plant the same ‘crops’ again,” she explained. “If not, then plant something different…Rather than being dead, bare ground is alive and filled with potential.” She listed several programs that will continue during the two year down-time: Youth Service Fund, Haiti Mission Trip, Confirmands Rally, and Spring Splash. District Councils on Youth Ministry will each decide how to proceed during the next two years.
Rachel Krahulik is starting her fifth year of participation in CCYM. She represents the Lansing District in the newly reorganized Council. “I think it is a good idea to try something new,” she says. “We’ve been talking about this since my 2nd or 3rd year. It seems like a shock but it has been coming and now I’m really excited!” Rachael participated in the recent Youth Assembly at Lake Louise where next steps were outlined.
“We will be getting a lot of new perspectives,” Rachel notes. “This will be a focus year with the focus on what works. Rachel wants leadership development to remain a central part of CCYM. “It’s great to be part of something that changes the way you think. My experience on CCYM has been really faith-building.”
The Albion District rep on CCYM is Madi Stagner, who will be a junior next year at Battle Creek Central. “We need to put together programs that are sustainable and that youth want to be part of,” Madi remarks. “People have not been showing up and we have struggled to get officers. More adults were attending meetings than youth and that was frustrating.” Her district and others were feeling lost and sensing a need to revamp. She confesses that some pastors seem to be reluctant to share their youth with CCYM. Madi celebrates her own pastor who said to her, “I want you to go to CCYM for leadership training. You will be good at it!”
Madi especially values the CCYM and Youth Assembly experience as a chance to be with other youth who are passionate and caring. “Change is always hard,” Madi says, “and it hurts when it doesn’t work and that makes people upset. But it also hurts when people don’t make the commitment to youth ministry a priority.” When asked what she hopes to have happen in 2014, Madi answers, “When we go in front of Conference I want to have a new vision that pastors want their youth to be part of. I hope pastors respond to the emails we’ll be sending.”
The third person currently elected by their district to the CCYM is Cheyenne Farr from the Grand Traverse District. She’s in her third year on the Executive Advisory Board. “For the past several years we have been getting less and less youth involvement in CCYM,” she says. She believes this is because there are fewer youth active in the local church as well. She acknowledges that the suspension of CCYM was, “kind of a surprise for kids who wondered, ‘why we’re letting it go.’” She adds, “ I personally think it will be a good thing to rebuild.” She is grateful for dedicated youth and adult leaders on her district and thinks part of the rebuilding needs to focus on the district level. Cheyenne’s hope is that CCYM will “once again become as strong as it was ten years ago.”
The Rev. Craig Adams served for many years as the Conference Youth Coordinator. Craig points to a critical link he believes is now missing in the CCYM big picture. “The structure of the CCYM was unique and strongly rooted in the Conference camping program as the primary form of disciple-making for children and youth.” He explains that the traditional expectation was that youth who attended Youth Assembly would also attend their district camp. District and conference youth councils became an ongoing venue for those campers to re-connect during the year. “District youth rallies were often essentially camp reunions,” Craig notes, “allowing youth to renew relationships they forged at camp.”
The Conference camping program is no longer district-based but site-based. Craig suggests, “this puts stress on a Youth Council structure with explicit by-laws that assume the existence of district junior and senior high camps and functioning youth councils on all six districts.” Like the youth quoted above, Craig says, “reform of the Youth Council has been on the agenda for years. But the reform was never radical enough. We naturally tend to fall back into past practices.”
Noting that the time for radical reimagining is upon us, Craig encourages interested people across the Annual Conference to “come together to find a new vision and direction for the Conference Youth Council, a body mandated by The United Methodist Church.” He reminds the Conference that the Book of Discipline offers clear guidelines regarding the structure and purpose of the CCYM.
The 2012 Youth Assembly held July 18-21 picked up where Annual Conference left off. Joy Mills reports that steps were mapped out for the next eight months. Youth on CCYM will engage in a conference call on Aug. 8. Two surveys will be distributed this fall, one to local churches in West Michigan and another to youth leaders in conferences across the U.S. CCYM will review the survey responses. Two open forums will take place in December, Dec. 1 and Dec. 15, one in the Cadillac area and the other near Grand Rapids. Details will follow. CCYM will organize a March retreat to act on the feedback.
“Please know that we ask for your prayers and support during this time of change for the youth of the West Michigan Conference,” Joy asserts. She encourages those who want to join the CCYM on this important journey to contact her or Naomi Garcia.
~Reported by Kay DeMoss, Weekly News senior writer; photos courtesy of Joy Mills. Homepage photo of 2012 Youth Assembly participants from both the West Michigan and Detroit Conferences.