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YAV alums and others in the PC(USA) join to commission the 2023-24 class of Young Adult Volunteers

Poetry, a rousing sermon and old-fashioned best wishes surround 26 YAVs during Thursday’s service

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Half of the 2023-24 Young Adult Volunteers were present for Thursday’s commissioning service at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. (All photos by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

LOUISVILLE — Twenty-six Young Adult Volunteers who’ve agreed to give a year of service for a lifetime of change were commissioned by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Thursday during a service held both online and in the Chapel at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Watch the 75-minute service here.

“YAVs, I’m so glad you’re here,” said the Rev. Mienda Uriarte, the director of World Mission, under whose umbrella the YAVs do their ministry. Half of the Class of 2023-24 participated in person, while the rest joined the commissioning from their YAV sites, which this year are in New Orleans, New York, Tucson, Colombia, Peru, Scotland and the Young Adult Berlin Partnership. Two YAVs are doing their service virtually.

Uriarte read the YAVs Jan Richardson’s poem, “A Blessing Called Sanctuary,” which concludes with these words:

“The time will come when this blessing
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you
but because it desires for you to become the sanctuary that you have found—
to speak your word into the world, to tell what you have heard with your own ears, seen with your own eyes, known in your own heart:
that you are beloved, precious child of God, beautiful to behold,
and you are welcome and more than welcome here.”

Simon Doong, a YAV alum, speaks to this year’s class just before being commissioned.

Former YAV Simon Doong, associate for peacemaking in the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, said while some YAVs may consider a successful year is “discovering that thing you love to do,” success may well be found in “finding out what you don’t want to do, or trying something new, or walking away with a new understanding of the world, of who God is, of who you are and who God calls you to be.”

“All of us had our lives shaped by our YAV experience,” Doong said of the former YAVs gathered to assist with the commissioning. “Success is not always about what is earned or delivered. Sometimes it’s about what’s learned and received.”

The Rev. Lee Catoe, also a former YAV and the editor of the Christian social justice journal Unbound, recited a verse from Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers”:

“I hitched a ride with the wind
And since he was my friend
I just let him decide where we’d go
When a flower grows wild
It can always survive
Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.”

The Rev. Lee Catoe shares some of his experiences as Young Adult Volunteer.

“I invite you to continue to hitch a ride with the Spirit who will challenge you and, like Dolly, will hold and glean from your rootedness and from your experiences to remember that though the world and the church look at you as young minds only in need of teaching, to remember that you are also the teacher.”

After Phillip Morgan, director of music at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, sang and played “Then My Living Shall not be in Vain,” the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, exhorted those gathered: “Come on church! You can say, ‘Amen!’”

After sprinkling her preaching text, Matthew 25:34-40, with modern examples of answers to the question, “When did we see you?” Moffett told the gathered YAVs that it’s “downright dangerous” to ignore people in need.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, smiles while preaching to the 2023-24 class of Young Adult Volunteers and others gathered during Thursday’s commissioning service.

“People who are righteous see the need and offer what they can to those who are suffering. It’s about openness and a new Christ-consciousness,” she said. “Jesus is asking us to create lifestyles that embody the life and justice, the re-presentation of Jesus in the world.”

“It’s OK to talk about being a Christian,” Moffett said, “but it’s much better to be a Christian … Give what you have to share, because you have something valuable. Wherever you go, look for Jesus, and don’t forget to search for him in yourself. Jesus calls us to take a second look at the people around us and at ourselves, and to know what’s in our hands. We have something special — something the world can’t give, and the world can’t take away.”

Thursday’s commissioning included the laying on of hands by most of the people present for the service in the Chapel. As they did that, many prayed out loud for the work of the YAVs, which begins in just a few days.

YAV Coordinator Destini Hodges, at left, shares a light moment with the Rev. Mienda Uriarte.

“I actually don’t know why these YAVs want to serve. They’re already doing the work,” Destini Hodges, coordinator of the YAV program, said following the service. “What do we have to teach them? They belong to the church and they’re doing the work.”

Hodges called it “crucial” to have former YAVs present during the service. In addition to Doong and Catoe, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Rob Fohr and the Rev. Rebecca Barnes, both former YAVs, each showed up to lend their support, with Barnes serving as a small-group leader.

The newest YAVs said they were eager to begin their year of service.

Maggie Collins of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, will be stationed at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, where she also served as a summer fellow two years ago while studying at the University of Richmond, majoring in leadership studies and French, the international language of diplomacy.

“I feel the support level is so high,” Collins said, adding she’s experiencing only “regular nerves going into a new place.”

The laying on of hands was for many the emotional highpoint of Thursday’s commissioning service.

Jamie Goodwin of Glasgow, Scotland, will spend his year of service at Okra Abbey, a community garden in New Orleans. Previously Goodwin did arts and worship development work at Govan and Linthouse Parish Church in Glasgow.

“The attraction for me is the intentional Christian community,” said Goodwin, who’s considering living off the grid someday and called his YAV experience in part “a steppingstone to see if I can do that — living together and covenanting together, being open and honest about faith and journey as a community.”

Learn more about the Young Adult Volunteers here or here.

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