young clergy meeting in nashville

UPDATE: Follow umcyoungclergy.com news on twitter

A week ago I had the privilege of meeting with a small group of younger clergy in Nashville. GBHEM was kind to host us for the quick Thursday-Friday meeting. The genesis for our meeting was conversation between a couple of younger clergypersons (Jenny Smith and Chris Roberts) who together saw a need to have younger clergy come together to work on issues of the Church and the realities of being younger clergy in our church. Somehow, a connection was made with Meg Lassiat from GBHEM, and the conveners and Meg each rounded up about 3 folks each. 

There were three items that were articulated by our conveners as reasons they were interested in getting younger clergy together: 

  1. Exploring how to navigate differences in search of unity. 
  2. Networking with young adult clergy for support. 
  3. Desire to “capture” the hopefulness and vision of younger clergy for the mission of Christ through the UMC and nurture that/stoke those flames

We touched on all three at some level, but spent more of our time and energy on #2. Survey data was available that pointed to three issues at the top of most younger clergyperson’s list of need/interest: build community, avoid isolation, grow in leadership. We acknowledged that these issues are shared with each and every generation. At the same time, the first two, which obviously relate to one another, are not unique to our generation in the fact that they are present challenges, but are unique to our generation in terms of degree of need.

Considering that the number of UM Elders (not to mention deacons/diaconals and local pastors) in 2008 was 910 compared with 3219 in 1985, the issue of isolation, while common to clergy, is clearly heightened by the significant drop in same-generation peers with whom to share the challenges of clergy isolation and with whom to build peer community. Also, noteworthy is the difference generationally concerning the issue of leadership development. Most estimates place the average age of UMC pastors as about 59. This is significant, for one reason, because we cap “active service” at age 72. So, for the average to be at 59, we clearly have enough clergy in the 13-year window from age 59-72 to pull up the average compared with the number of clergy in the roughly 32-year window from age 27-59. And all industries are now mindful of the “retirement wave” expected in the next 10 years, depending on the projections, due to baby-boomer retirements. This means that leadership development carries a greater sense of urgency for younger clergy, who have been told to anticipate a quicker assumption of leadership responsibility than previous generations. This urgency is being met with passion and enthusiasm, though, which shows promise for the church. 

Back to the meeting. Several of my cohorts have offered excellent reflections and summaries of the meeting, so let me link those and then offer a few more impressions. 

  • The whole meeting was live-blogged on ScribbleLive by several in the room and many observers. I did not have the technology available for personal use, but read the whole transcript once I got home. 
  • Jenny Smith has given an excellent summary of the conversation on her blog in parts one, two, and three
  • April Casperson shares her reflections here
  • Ashlee Alley offers her thoughts on it here
  • Andrew Conard shares here
  • UPDATE: Ray Hughes blogs from his ScribbleLive connection to the gathering here

Looking forward, there are plans in the works for enhancing the site umcyoungclergy.com in order to build online community and resources for young clergy. I’ll definitely report on updates as they come about. Check Jenny’s post here for how you might contribute to that effort. 

Final impressions: Exceptionally positive. On a task level, we were able to translate some impressions about why to get together into a couple of significant initiatives for moving forward to strengthen young clergy in a 24-hour period. On a personal level, I felt at ease with the group practically from the introductions onward. We ate meals together, we got together late at the hotel restaurant for drinks and desserts to talk more. There was an ease in relationship about the group that was fantastic. Folks were interested in one another’s stories and willing to press one another back and forth in conversation, but my sense was that it was all in a healthy and collegial manner. Further, I was blessed to know some of the other participants from seminary days (randomly–we were invited by others!), but I enjoyed observing the gifts and passions and minds of each person whether new friends or old in our conversations. 

I’m thankful to have had the privilege to have been “in the room” for this meeting and now pray to be a faithful steward of having been “in the room” as we go forward.

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