At a time when The United Methodist Church is facing unprecedented change and uncertainty, Exploration 2019 was a powerful reminder of just how many young leaders are willing to step up and steer the future of the Church.
“God is still calling and there are people who are still listening,” said Rev. Dr. Trip Lowery, director of Vocational Discernment and Candidacy for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM).
On Nov. 1, 207 young adults arrived in Orlando, Florida to participate in Exploration 2019. GBHEM hosts the biennial event designed to help participants from ages 18-26 discern if God is calling them to ordained ministry in the Church. The weekend is filled with dynamic speakers, inspiring worship services, small group discussions and workshops related to life in ministry.
“Exploration definitely helped me further discern my call and I feel much more stable in what I want to do with my future,” said Greta Long, a junior at Illinois State University. “I also formed some really meaningful relationships and I’m excited to see where those lead and how those blossom.”
Long is a member of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference and is interested in pursuing ordination as a deacon and then working in mental health counseling and pastoral care.
As part of the event’s workshops, students like Long had opportunities to meet with current clergy and lay ministry leaders and learn from their experiences. Topics included, “Mission and Social Justice,” “Extension Ministry: Serving Beyond the Local Church,” and “Diversity in Ministry: Embracing Holistic, Inclusive Community.”
While many workshops focused on various aspects of ordained life, participants also learned about lay ministry. As part of the discernment process, Exploration leaders reminded them that there are many ways to answer God’s call.
“If you’re an accountant, if you’re an artist, if you’re a teacher, God needs you too,” said Hannah Hanson, the director of Young Adult Mission Service for the General Board of Global Ministries. Hanson spoke at the worship service on the second day of Exploration and highlighted ways that participants might serve in ministry and mission outside a traditional setting.
Other featured speakers included Bria Rochelle, a second year in the Master of Divinity program at Duke Divinity School, and Rev. Dr. Joseph McBrayer, pastor of Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Georgia.
When they arrived, each Exploration participant was given a copy of the discernment journal, “Listen. Discern. Respond. A Guide to Answering God’s Invitation,” to help them reflect on their call and the type of ministry that might suit them. The book, which was written by Rev. Dale Fredrickson and published by GBHEM, employs various exercises to help users better understand the unique path God has set before them. Frederickson led “Journaling Through Discernment” workshops to guide participants as they began to use the book.
“The journal is filled with ideas, prompts, quotes, challenging exercises and spiritual practices that help people listen, discern and respond to God’s call in their lives. Through three workshops, I heard courage, boldness and vulnerability in college students, pastors and other adults as they encountered the journal and expressed their hopes and dreams for the world,” said Fredrickson. Fredrickson is a poet and the lead pastor at Lakewood United Methodist Church in Lakewood, Colorado.
In addition to practical advice and inspiration, Exploration offers an important connectional experience for its participants. They are able to form a network with other young people who are traveling through the same discernment process, identifying peers they can continue to talk to and lean on for support long after the weekend conference has ended.
“Everyone at Exploration was so open, honest and real. I think that if enough young people have hope and are willing to step up and lead, change can be accomplished in the Church,” said Mya Taylor, a freshman at the University of Indianapolis and a member of the Indiana Annual Conference.
Most of all, participants at Exploration are urged to use their voices and their gifts for the glory of God no matter what direction their call takes them.
The event’s final worship speaker, Rev. Rachel Billups of the West Ohio Annual Conference, encouraged participants to start their journey now and never let their doubts hold them back. She reminded everyone that the Church needs the next generation to step forward and that God often chooses the perceived “least among us” for the greatest tasks.
“We need you to be up on this platform one day and remind people what it means to really love Jesus,” she said. “Don’t wait!”
Check out our social media channels @GBHEM and @explorecalling for more photos and video recaps of Exploration 2019.
About GBHEM: The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry embraces the ministry of learning and leadership formation in The United Methodist Church and the Wesleyan tradition; serving Christians around the world who are shaped by a process of intellectual engagement, spiritual and character formation, and leadership development. We cultivate a dynamic culture of call and vocational discernment that encourages lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in God’s ministry and mission for the Church, the academy and the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.