Archives For Young Adults

Jason Ciarlante

by Jason Ciarlante

I am a 40-year-old Sicilian Methodist born, raised, and residing in Staten Island, New York. Being Sicilian I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but was saved and called to serve in the United Methodist Church.

So I left behind aspirations of law school, supported my wife’s medical career, and became a stay-at-home father for our two boys, Jason and Joshua. I have recently earned my master of divinity degree from Drew Theological School and am seeking to become a certified candidate within the New York Annual Conference toward deacon’s orders.

I have served as a youth pastor for a year at Vincent United Methodist Church in Nutley, New Jersey, and am currently enrolled in a yearlong clinical pastoral education residency at Eger Rehabilitation and Nursing Home, Staten Island, earning my last three credits toward board certification as a chaplain.

It was in these last two years of chaplaincy that I came to the realization that the deacon track reflected a genuine response to my calling. My growing theology of grace and mission in the world are fully actualized for me in the coupling of the diaconal walk and my work as chaplain. One of the revelations that helped bring this surety to fruition was my love of something very dear to Wesleyan methodology: small groups.

Young Adults: For Us—By Us

My time as a youth pastor at Vincent helped me see this more clearly. As the first youth pastor this church I wanted to build on the group’s already solid foundation. They were eight to ten youth, ages thirteen to sixteen, who attended every Sunday with their parents. I wanted to understand the spiritual and emotional context of this group. I began with a series of questions to get honest answers for how they felt about church: what they liked and disliked, what they would change and why. This gave me a better understanding of where these youths “were” within their own spiritual walks.

Three things were blazingly clear by their answers. First, they found it hard to relate to anything in what they referred to as “their parents’” church. Second, the church itself wasn’t really speaking to them, or at least not speaking their language. Last, if they could change anything, it would be the music and the atmosphere.

I found an empty room in the building that we cleaned and painted. We took old couches we found around the church and created a lounge-type ambiance. Here I invited the youth to create their own space for worship and devotion. The name For Us—By Us was inspired by the popular FuBu clothing line.

At a For Us—By Us gathering, one youth brings in a Bible passage and another brings in a song that they connect with. The only requirement was they had to really feel that song; other than that, they could bring ANY song. The group would each read the biblical passage one at a time and then say what they heard, what they felt, and what they found interesting. Then, the youth who brought a song would briefly explain why they picked it and how they felt about it. Then we all would listen to it. Again, we would each talk about what we heard and how we felt. In this way we heard the scripture and music communally, but each of us was then able to say how it affected them individually as well. This is important because it gave each of them a chance to express themselves and be heard.

This created genuine opportunities for them to identify with each other on a deeper, peer-to-peer level. It offered me the chance to more practically apply the scripture to the context of their lives, thus connecting the practical reality they face every day with our scared text. Many of them would often say later that it was in that connection that they found meaning, hope, and a way to express their faith in a more genuine way. Working with these young adults is something that I will never forget.

Men’s Cigar-Shop Ministry

While serving as a youth pastor I became increasingly aware that I was always seeing and talking with mothers. Where are the fathers, I wondered?

I began by telephoning the fathers. Many replied that they were simply too busy on Sunday mornings with work, leisure activities, or other things. All of them, when pressed, admitted that Sunday worship just wasn’t for them: they did not feel at home there and preferred other ways to find fellowship and connect with the Spirit. Most of these other ways were secular activities that had potential for a deeper, more spiritual atmosphere. Yet rarely did anyone see it that way. In fact, many of them get more spiritual nourishment from the comradery and companionship that comes with activities like meeting at a local cigar shop to have a smoke with good friends.

This gave me the idea to start a men’s group Bible study at a nearby cigar shop. For these meetings I carefully selected Bible passages that would directly relate to and tease out many of the issues men face. Issues of love, sex, and violence, such as found in stories of the rape of Dinah, the Tamar and Judah story, Abraham in Egypt, as well as other scripture portions that are rarely discussed in congregational and other communal settings, as Prof. Danna Nolan Fewell noted in the syllabus for her course “Love, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Bible” at Drew Theological School. I envisioned a circle of comfortable chairs, a smoke-filled room, open Bibles and deep discussions about marital stresses, masculinity, and how men relate to their wives, children, each other, and God.

Many of our conversations at the cigar-shop Bible studies addressed the difficult topics that so many of our religious and political leaders keep pushing folks to have.

They talked about privilege, race, sex, and masculinity, all prompted by the Bible passages we read. The comfortable, masculine atmosphere of the location offset the usual discomfort that often accompany these sacred conversations. The collective trust and comfortable setting allowed the men to tolerate a lot of shared unease about such hard topics.

The men gathered twice monthly for the better part of year. Once we incorporated some locals from the shop, one of whom then came to church one Sunday.

Sinatra & Cannoli

Harbor House, the assisted-living facility related to Eger Nursing Home, asked me to begin a group for the male residents. After talking with many of the men I learned that a majority shy away from the usual bingo or craft activities. These just did not seem “manly” enough for them. I also discovered that a large Italian population resides here. Being Italian myself, I knew that two things are always beloved and never balked at by older Italian men: cannoli and Frank Sinatra.

I decided that the medium would be music, and specifically for this audience and context, Frank Sinatra. Sinatra songs have powerful narratives that touch on many of life’s practical issues. “I Did It My Way,” “That’s Life,” and “You’re Nobody Until Somebody Loves You” stir up questions and musings about life, faith, and meaning.

Usually, it would have been an uphill battle to get a group like this to discuss such topics. Here the music made space for them to acknowledge some of the 500-pound gorillas in the room. For example, “I Did It My Way” sparked confessions like “my divorce was probably my fault because I did things my way, the [man’s way], and that’s how I lost my wife.” This led to conversation on emotions, patriarchy, marriage, and compromise. “That’s Life,” which in its own way addresses theodicy and the reality of accepting life on life’s terms. The context was made more intimate and more comfortable by the cannoli I brought. This beloved Italian treat evoked a living-room, after-dinner atmosphere that many of them fondly missed.

In our second year we have moved onto other music they’ve suggested: songs that connect them to their wives, who have passed, or their childhood homes and the love they remember there. Some of these songs are from the 1920s and ’30s. When I find them on YouTube and play them, the emotional connection is so strong that many times we all simply just listen in silence or at times we weep together for the days that have gone by. Here, the spiritual awareness has comes in an appreciation of where they are within this life instead of being resentful and ashamed. Many of them have remarked that this group has given them perspective and on where they have come from, where they are going, and perhaps most importantly, where they are today.

The Power of Small Groups

The sense of community in each of these fellowships has shown me the power of small groups. The feeling of belonging and making genuine connections are miraculous. Here it’s OK to cry, laugh, and feel all the feelings that one might otherwise suppress. While in such a group, participants are free to be their genuinely broken but beautiful selves. Brene Brown says in her book on shame, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) (Avery, 2007), “Where gratitude and appreciation live, shame cannot exist.” Furthermore, I believe that with a grateful and appreciative heart, anyone anywhere can open up to find a connection with God.

As a chaplain on the diaconal walk, I am called more and more to create sacred spaces outside the church walls for this very reason. In these moments in those shared sacred spaces I have witnessed endless possibilities to nudge the everyday stories of people’s lives into a deeper connection with God and our scripture.

Jason Ciarlante is pursuing certified candidacy toward deacon’s orders in the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Mission Scott jpg

 

by Rev. Scott Parrish

Recently, I’ve been struggling with a question: How are we actively assisting young adults in our sphere of influence to find their place in the United Methodist global mission movement?

I confess I find it easy to get locked in on my everyday tasks, and sometimes lose the long-term importance of actively engaging the next generation in service. As I start a new year, I’m looking for more chances to share the mission. We deacons may be the key to getting the word out and involving young adults in service.

The United Methodist Church offers many mission opportunities for young adults ages 18 to 30. Imagine if at least two or three young adults from each conference were to take up this call! Since deacons should be at the front line of mission, with one foot firmly in the church and one foot firmly in the world, it is particularly important that we are advocates for our connectional mission.

Here are some opportunities to communicate to your church’s young adults:

Generation Transformation offers great options in mission for young adults. Deadlines are quickly approaching, so get the word out right away. The opportunities range from Global Justice Volunteers (two months) to Global Mission Fellows (two years). The service locations can be in the United States or elsewhere in the world. Individual volunteer opportunities are open to all ages (yes, we want everyone involved in mission). Let’s focus specifically on young adults.

Global Justice Volunteers come from all over the world and sent to almost anywhere in the world to serve for two months, June to August. These young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 serve in settings where they can explore the links between faith and social justice. This program gives the volunteers the opportunity to develop new skills, learn from local experts, and channel their passion to help build just communities.

Global Mission Fellows serve two years and engage in a range of work, including ministries with children and youth, community and congregational development, leadership development, ministry with the poor, social justice, and more. International placements depend on language skills. Those with strong second-language abilities often do more specialized work.

There are currently 87 young adult missionaries serving in 20 countries. General Board of Global Ministries wants to grow this number and needs our help!

Here’s what some young adults have said about their time in mission service:

“Generation Transformation gives you a space to grow and an opportunity to become part of something bigger than yourself. . . . This is the perfect way to ignite your faith and transform yourself and the world around you. I have learned that often the mission we think we’re doing is not always the mission God is working on.” Jerrica Becker, Global Mission Fellow US-2 Track 2012-2014. Home: Oklahoma. Placement: Murphy Harpst Children’s Center, Cedartown, Georgia.

“Young-adult mission opportunities are just starting to bloom in our Central Conference, and I am encouraging young people to discern their call for mission. It was often hard to know that my enthusiasm for mission was not widely shared in the UMC in my country. Part of me would say that I am in the Global Mission Fellows program so that I can be a living testimony and encouragement to young people in the Philippines to apply and do as I have done.” Joy Eva Bohol, Global Mission Fellow International Track 2013-2015. Home: Cebu City, Philippines. Placement: Centro Popular Para America Latina en Comunicación (CEPALC) in Bogotá, Colombia.

As deacons well know, service is transformational both for those served and those who serve!

There are a number of great Generation Transformation resources that engagingly tell the story of young adults in mission:

Introduction to Generation Transformation video (one minute)

Generation Transformation: Transforming Lives video (two minutes): GT alumni tell how their experiences changed their outlook and their lives.

Generation Transformation web site: At this information-rich site find videos and a Generation Transformation Toolkit that includes ready-to-print brochures, sermon starter, fliers, FAQs, etc.

Use these resources, and feel free to contact me. I can help you in your work of mission in your conference and jurisdiction.

Scott Parrish is a deacon and clergy member of North Georgia Annual Conference. He is mission specialist, Connectional Ministries, for North Georgia Conference and a mission strategist for General Board of Global Ministries. For North Georgia, he serves as coach, networker, and trainer in mission. For GBGM he assists churches and districts with mission celebrations as a strategy to communicate opportunities and launch into a new year of service in following Christ. His ministry is to inspire, engage, equip, and deploy more people in mission as they take the next step of faith following in the way of Christ.

The Center for Courage & Renewal invites young United Methodist clergy (deacons and elders age 35 and younger) to apply for “Courage to Lead for Young United Methodist Ministers: A 6-Month Leadership Intensive for Faith Leaders to Renew, Reflect and Reconnect.”

This Courage to Lead Intensive offers young faith leaders a rare opportunity to listen to God, connect deeply with committed peers, engage significant questions, and build their capacities for sustainable leadership over the long haul. Three separate cohorts across the country will meet in the Atlanta, Milwaukee and Denver areas for opening and closing retreats focusing on “Leading from Within” and “Habits of the Heart for Healthy Ministry.” Between retreats, small groups of five will engage in once-a-month facilitated Peer Learning Calls to deepen the learning and integrate principles and practices into their faith journeys and ministry contexts.

Courage to Lead for Young United Methodist Minsters is open to young clergy serving United Methodist congregations or in another ministry setting. The cohorts will primarily consist of, but not be limited to, men and women ages 35 and under. They are using an application process to allow us to convene dynamic and diverse cohorts, specifically attending to a diversity of ministry settings, race, gender and geographic representation. Applications are due by January 16, 2015.

Learn more at the Courage to Lead site.