Updated to correct an error in the listed %.
By Amanda Tobey

May 12, 2016 | Portland, Oregon

0.23%. That is percentage of youth voting delegates on the floor of General Conference this year. It is commonly understood that youth and young adults are hugely underrepresented on a global level in the United Methodist Church.

A question that commonly gets posed is, “How can we get more youth to come to (insert event/meeting name here)?” People never like the answers. General Conference just got a rude awakening on just how underrepresented youth were. On the floor, nominations were received for the General Board of Commissions for the open youth position. In the first round of nominations for the position, only voting delegates were allowed to be nominated.

Amanda Tobey
Amanda Tobey

This was met with silence. The conclusion was that there were no youth voting members on the floor until a member of the Rocky Mountain Conference nominated one of their delegates, who happened to be 18, the cutoff age for youth. One other youth was nominated, barely making the cut off age, and nominations moved on. Out of the 864 voting delegates on the floor, only two were 18 or younger.

Universally, the church realizes that it needs more youth and young adults to continue because there has to be someone to pass the reigns to, but getting our voices heard is a hard, sometimes impossible, task. There is fear in sending someone lacking extensive experience to represent the conference at an event as important as General Conference. There is also a flipside to this. At General Conference, many people talk about how they have been going to General Conference four or more times, and although having someone experienced in legislative work is important, never giving young people the opportunity to gain their own experience prove to be more problematic.

Young people are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of decisions made at General Conference. This was made evident this year with the large growth in legislation relating to Climate Change, showing a concern for the Earth and a care for future generations.

Unfortunately, the only problem isn’t young people getting elected to vote, it’s picking a time that young people can come. Whether it is global or on a conference level, meetings seem to always happen midday on a weekday, making it impossible/difficult for young people or working laity to make it to the meeting.

Currently, General Conference is only held in May, although it was changed that General Conference could switch the time of year in 2024 when in Manila. Most young people have finals, or are preparing for finals, and can’t miss school during the month of May, adding another obstacle for young people in getting their voices heard.

For an event so concerned about equal representation, young people are often put on a back burner, leaving out an important part of the church. As present/future leaders in the church, youth representation is needed to help shape the church for the future, and the only way for them to do that, is for the church to make them more of a priority.

Amanda Tobey is a young adult from the Pacific Northwest Conference. She has worked on various conference level committees as a youth and young adult, and attended the Global Young People’s Convocation and Legislative Assembly in 2014. She is participating in General Conference as a reserve Lay Delegate.

Photo Credit:
Megan Kilpatrick and Amanda Tobey prepare for their day at General Conference by attending the early morning Jurisdictional delegation meeting. Photo by Teri Tobey


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