This past weekend, I had the pleasure of leading a group of young people from my annual conference to Exploration 2006, in Jacksonville, Florida. We had 6 youth/young adults from our AC, and two other young clergy lead with me. I had the opportunity twice to go to Exploration ('96 and '98) in high-school and college, and I remember being the only one from my annual conference, or at least the only one I was aware of at the time. So, I wanted to give a more organized experience to young people from NCNY this time around. One of the frustrating parts of the process for me in pursuing ordination was feeling disconnected. I knew I wanted to be a pastor, and communicated that to adults early on and consistently in my journey, but it wasn't until I was back inside the AC bounds serving a church as a probation that I felt really connected again. I've heard many young people express a sense of call, and I always wonder - is anyone following up with them? Is anyone keeping in touch with them? Helping them figure out what to do next? So, I'm trying to answer my own critique at least in part, and make sure I help that connection process take place.
Attending as an adult certainly made me reflect on my two experiences as a participant. When I went in '96 (Dallas/Fort Worth) I was recovering from surgery, and was popping Tylenol with Codeine every four hours for the pain. I slept through most of the event. I remember focusing all of my energy/attention on staying awake, only to realize I had been nodding off mid-sermon. I also remember being pretty sure at that time that I was going into youth ministry, would never attend seminary, and certainly would never become a pastor. I went to Exploration because my own pastor encouraged it, and helped fund the trip. But I did enjoy my time, half-awake and all. It was the first time I ever traveled solo, which is still something I enjoy. And it was fun to be in the presence of so many other young people considering ministry.
In 1998, I had a much different experience. I attended with a handful of friends from Ohio Wesleyan. The event was in Los Angeles, and we flew over the Grand Canyon on the way out. It may sound silly, but I couldn't believe how big it was, even from way up in the plane. I mean, I guess it is the Grand Canyon and all, but it was *so* big and beautiful. (I'm hoping to actually get to Arizona this year to see it a little closer up!) I managed to dig up my participant book this weekend to look through. (Yes, I'm a pack rat.) The structure of the event, the schedule is mostly unchanged. But I was apparently less critical as a young person than as an adult! I made comments in my book about all the preachers and speakers and workshops. I attended two workshops - Women in Ministry and Discerning and Discovering God's Call. I went to the second because my friends were all going to that one, and it turned out to be surprisingly thought-provoking. I was struggling, at the time, with a decision about whether or not to graduate a year early from Ohio Wesleyan. I eventually chose to do so, and my decision in part was from that workshop. I had high praise for Bishop Woodie White, who preached at the commitment service, Bishop Roy Sano, host bishop, and then Rev. Minerva Carcano. Liked the music team. Like all of it, really.
Now, as an adult leader, I couldn't turn off my critical lens. Our leadership from NCNY was interesting - three of us ordained together this June - theologically at opposite ends of the spectrum. All of us under 40. We tend to disagree with each other on most things, but have somewhat of a common understanding about where the church is and where the church needs to be, which makes us interesting partners in ministry too. We talked to each other a lot about the language, the music, the preaching, the structure of the schedule, the seminary displays, etc., though I suspect that we had a lot more to say about this than the young people with us did. Bishop Carcano was supposed to preach the closing worship at this event, but was not able to attend, so I was disappointed there. All in all, though, I know the youth we took had a great time and each took at least something helpful away.
I was just glad to be in Jacksonville instead of Central New York in late November. Our hotel was gorgeous, and right on the river/boardwalk. It was beautiful all weekend, and I was glad to have no responsibilities at the event!