The young seminarians of the United Methodist Church (UMC) are hoping to make a vital impact on the church, despite the stereotypes given off by their young age and little experience.
Shonda Jones, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, says young adults in seminaries face unique issues, reported the UMC news service.
"There's an assumption that because they are young, they'll do youth ministry, whether or not they feel called to youth ministry," said Jones, 35, an adviser to the seminarian group.
The Young Adult Seminarian Network was formed in 2004 for seminarians 35 and younger to help them build connections and relationships that will last through the years.
"If you go to seminary right out of college, you get out at about 25, and you might go to a church with an average age of 50," said Jones.
She added that while some young seminarians have been taken by their church "under their wing," others have been viewed by the members of their congregation as inadequate for the job for having "too little life experience for the job."
The Rev. Luther Felder, director of the campus ministry section of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, believes that the group, which holds annual conferences and jurisdictional meetings, can encourage other young adults to consider ministry as a first-career choice.
"I think we absolutely need more young people entering seminary," Felder said. A balance is needed between young adults and older seminarians who have answered the call to ministry as a second career, he added.
This crucial role to encourage other young adults to the ministry has reportedly become evident during the group's May 26-29 meeting at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., in conjunction with Student Forum 2005.
Missy Meyers, a student at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and the facilitator of the group, said her fellow young seminarians agree that the role the group must play in the church is one that is crucial.
"We want it to be something that's vital to the church," said Meyers of the network whose purpose lies in providing advocacy, resources, support and community for young seminarians.
One of initial projects the network plans to launch is an AIDS initiative, modeled after the United Methodist Bishops' Initiative on Children and Poverty. Some 40 members will begin with AIDS awareness programs and volunteer work in October, followed by prayer vigils on each campus on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.
Next spring, the network is planning fund-raisers, with proceeds divided among two AIDS ministries, Grace House in Jackson, Miss., and the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.
Additionally, the group also provides an opportunity for the seminarians to build friendship with "vastly different theological perspectives," said Michelle Blume, a seminarian at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., citing from her own experience through the AIDS project.
"Asbury and Claremont are so different, but this network allowed us to work on the same thing, and we're friends now," Blume said. "If we can bring seminarians from across theological spectrums together, it's a start."
She said she hopes those relationships will carry over to General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body. "It's harder to shoot someone and what they believe down if you know that person," she said.
Paula Cripps, a Claremont (Calif.) School of Theology student, agrees.
"We're not going to be pitted against each other because of moral issues or different interpretations of (the) Scripture," she said. "How much better we work if we know someone as a sister or brother in Christ."