Helping millennials find a passion for justice
From opposing the slave trade and smuggling to fighting the cruel treatment of prisoners, United Methodists' concern for social justice has a long and rich history.
Today's Social Principles are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference, United Methodism's top legislative body, to speak to human issues from a sound biblical and theological foundation.
As it carries out its responsibility for implementing the Social Principles and other policy statements and teachings, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) challenges United Methodists to work in areas of social concern. It develops resources and programs to inform, motivate and train church members on issues of social justice.
Of particular note is the agency's role in involving millennials via internships, seminar programs and young clergy leadership forums.
Quick to point out the importance of millennials' role as interns at GBCS is the Rev. Neal Christie, assistant general secretary for education and leadership formation.
"What would Washington, D.C., be without interns?" Christie said. "We couldn't function without them! And why is that? It's not because interns are cheap or free labor. That's far from the truth. Interns provide perspective for people like myself who are called to do ministry within the church and from the church to society.
"They provide a perspective on what it means to be discerning a future as emerging leaders. They have passions and are wondering how to live them out. Interns ask questions that we may miss or overlook. They give us a new set of eyes and ears on social justice issues and what is possible. Millennial United Methodists want to focus on what works to sustain change, and they want to be a part of that environment and that community. They want to have a hand in shaping it for the better."
Christie said interns contribute to the agency's knowledge base of what young adults are dealing with today.
"It's very different from when I was an intern at GBCS in the mid-80s," he said. "We didn't have computers; we shared an electric typewriter. We didn't have social media, and we recognized that we ‘had our place.' Today, our interns go to press conferences, facilitate training and attend staff meetings. So, they understand what it's like to discuss and debate emerging issues such as gun violence, the conflict in Israel and Palestine and climate justice. They are here at the table with us, not kept aside waiting for an assignment. That's the value that we place on our interns. They are welcome and we have high expectations of them."
GBCS provides two internship programs. Both offer opportunities for emerging leaders to gain valuable professional advocacy experience in issues involving human well-being, justice, peace and the integrity of creation. The experiences also increase the interns' leadership skills and deepen their Christian walk and witness.
The GBCS Internship Program is offered in the fall, winter/spring and summer to applicants who are at least 18 years old and enrolled in a college or university or employed full-time. The applicant must be an active leader and participant in a local church, faith-based or community organization involved in social justice activities.
Running from late May through early August, the Ethnic Minority Young Adult (EYA) internship is for 18-22-year-old people of color who are members of The United Methodist Church. Applicants must be a rising college sophomore, junior or senior or employed full-time and an active leader and participant in a local church or community organization involved in social justice activities. EYA interns work in non-profit and non-governmental social justice organizations in Washington.
Both programs are life changing as evidenced by reflections from EYA interns:
"When we leave Washington the world may not look as drastically different as it did two months ago, but I feel that our paradigms do, and that is just the start. First we shift our minds, and then we shift the world." Jeff Preptit, Johnson City, Tennessee
"We are the movers, the stoppers and the shakers. There is nothing that we can't do as long as we have God. The Ethnic Young Adult Internship has taught me so many things, but one of the most important is that I have the power to change the world." Joyce Campbell, Silver Spring, Maryland
"... I realized I am thirsty for social justice. I am a soul ready to fight for the rights of others who are not treated fairly. I realized that I find joy and meaning in fighting for change and reform in this unjust society. I realized I will always feel empty if I just work for pay and nothing else." Pia Francesca Casas, Manila, Philippines
"I have made up my mind about what I want to do in the future. I want to serve in social justice organizations and work and take action for the rights of people all over the world." Sereana Banuve, Santa Rosa, California
GBCS's seminar program features learning, experiencing, growing and engaging around justice issues that affect communities. Recent seminar topics include human trafficking, environmental justice, immigration, poverty and homelessness, and race and reconciliation. Each seminar is customized to meet organizer and attendee requests and may include experiential exercises, small group discussions and opportunities to express, in various art forms, what participants have learned. All seminars meet at the United Methodist Building across the street from the United States Capitol and the Supreme Court. For more information about the seminar program, contact Aimee Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Young Clergy Leadership Forum
Established in 2003, the Young Clergy Leadership Forum connects participants with GBCS's ministry, provides a forum for sharing knowledge and experiences, creates bridges for future ministry collaboration and builds relationships among peers from across the United Methodist connection. Participants must be serving full time in local churches and be between the ages of 20 and 35. Almost 600 young clergy have participated over the last 14 years.
The Rev. Kirstie Jeanette Garnes, associate pastor of Saint Paul United Methodist Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, attended the 2014 Young Clergy Leadership Forum. She will never forget the life-transforming event.
"Hearing the stories of various leaders in The UMC and their platforms on various social justice issues, such as women and children advocacy, poverty, LBGTQ concerns and presentations from staff members working on the continent of Africa, were life changing," said Garnes.
"One of the questions that I will always remember from Susan Burton (GBCS staff), who spoke on women and children's rights, was, ‘What would the church look like if women and girls were seen as children of God with sacred worth?' Quotes like these encouraged me to never get tired of pursuing social justice and equality inside and outside of the church."
Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.