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The PC(USA) wants to strengthen the voices of young adults by offering them an advocacy conference this fall

Two compelling voices join the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins during the Advocacy Watch podcast

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Campaign Creators via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Three of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s strongest voices for empowering young adults to advocate for change that’s important to them took to the airwaves last week to discuss the free Young Adult Advocacy Conference set for Oct. 20-22 at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Listen to the 26-minute conversation among the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Ivy Lopedito and Victoria Alexander on Advocacy Watch, a monthly edition of A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast, by going here.

Hawkins is director of the PC(USA)’s advocacy offices in Washington, D.C., and the United Nations. Lopedito is associate for international issues at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, and Alexander is a Young Adult Volunteer working at the PMUN.

The fall conference is being offered free of charge to college students, seminarians and other young adults living in the Louisville area and in southern Indiana. It’ll also have an online component. A video explaining the conference can be seen here. Visit the conference website by going here.

Asked by Hawkins to explain the value such a conference might have for young people, Alexander said, “For me, it’s really important that my faith is one of action. So many of the advocacy priorities I have — gun violence prevention and climate — you get a lot of the ‘thoughts and prayers’ sort of response from the Christian community. To me, our faith means going beyond that.”

Victoria Alexander is a Young Adult Volunteer working at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. (Contributed photo)

The skills young adults will sharpen at this conference — and at subsequent conferences planned for Charlotte, North Carolina in 2024 and East Lansing, Michigan, in 2025 — “are skills that when you develop them, you’re going to use them for the rest of your life,” Alexander said. “I wish I’d had an event like this when I was starting out my advocacy journey.”

Young adults can and should learn that “I don’t have to wait for someone older to give me permission. I don’t need to wait for the chance to speak up. I can take it right now,” Alexander said. “It speaks to the priorities the PC(USA) has, that they’re putting together an advocacy conference like this and saying, ‘Not only do we want young people in the room — we want them to be the ones leading us in all this advocacy work.’”

“We believe empowering young people to engage and to take an active role can play a crucial part in changing the future for the greater good,” Lopedito said. “We’ve been engaged in a Matthew 25 vision that calls upon the church to care for the most vulnerable and to seek a flourishing of all God’s people,” especially in fighting poverty and racism, seeking greater Creation care and gender justice and embracing peacemaking and human dignity for all people, she said. Then Lopedito turned the tables on Hawkins, asking him, “Why is advocacy work important in the lives of young adults?”

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins

“Every congregation wants more young people,” Hawkins said. “What do young people want? They want to see a church that’s concerned about the community.” Not only will young adults receive training to become more effective advocates, “they will see the Church in a new light, that the Church is involved in justice and concerned when people are homeless and have nowhere to go, concerned when there is war all around the world, concerned when they see injustice in their local communities,” Hawkins said. “They’ll see that the church has a prophetic voice, a longstanding prophetic voice. We’ve been doing this work for over 70 years” in both the nation’s capital and at the United Nations.

“It’s going to be a life-changing event,” Hawkins said, echoing comments Alexander made earlier. “It’s going to help young people to see that they can make a difference and that their Church can help them make a difference.”

Alexander has appreciated how intergenerational churches can be as they go about the work of advocacy.

“I have seen so many people around me willing to share their life experience,” Alexander said. They say: “Here are things I wish I’d known when I was your age.”

“That’s efficient,” Alexander said, “because it helps me avoid some of those same mistakes and it means that on the days when I feel like, man, I have been working my tail off and things are never going to change, you can turn to those people and say, ‘How do you stay in this work?’ It’s life-giving.

“Having faith to fall back on — to kind of rest for a moment — is nice,” Alexander said. “It’s not just your personal faith. It’s the community of faith you have around you.”

Ivy Lopedito is associate for international issues at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. (Contributed photo)

During the conference, “we’ll explore the connection between faith and justice,” Lopedito said. “For justice advocacy, that’s the heartbeat of our work. It’s important to go to church, but it’s even more important to be the church.”

“We hope to see a lot of young people there,” Lopedito said, “and we can’t wait to see all that God has for the future of this work and for young people who are excited and committed to do this work.”

Hawkins invited each to offer a 30-second pitch to convince young adults to register for the conference, which can be done by going here.

“I would say do it,” Alexander said. “You’re going to use these skills for the rest of your life in any setting. You’re going to learn something at this conference that’s going to benefit you for the rest of your life.”

“It’s faith and action. We know you’re excited and committed,” Lopedito said. “We have seen young people doing this work. We are ready as the Church to come alongside and to equip and inspire and be part of the movement of God to make this world a better place.”

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