Young adults impress leaders at 2022 College Conference at Montreat

Leaders say they’re ‘blown away’ by the depth of spiritual and theological conversations

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The “What’s Next?” 2022 College Conference concluded Wednesday at Montreat Conference Center. (Photo by UKirk Greensboro, North Carolina)

LOUISVILLE — Following the just-completed 2022 College Conference at Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, North Carolina, Anisha Hackney said she learned as much, if not more, than the young adults attending her “Minding the Gap: Living and Working with Different Cultures” workshop.

“They are asking provocative questions and want to have tough, critical conversations,” Hackney said. “Those of us who are older need to remember that we were once their age, with questions and ideas that needed to be tested and challenged, but also welcomed and embraced.”

Hackney, a manager in Human Resources at the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said she had a great week making connections with young adults to better understand what their career interests are. Human Resources plans to do more targeted recruitment outreach to young adults, Hackney said. During conversations in her workshop, she was amazed at thoughts and ideas young people have about the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation.

‘Their thoughts and ideas on ways to dismantle racism and eradicate poverty were amazing.’

“Their thoughts and ideas on ways to dismantle racism and eradicate poverty were amazing,” she said. “They’re already thinking systemically. We should listen to their thoughts and comments. I hope they show up in the world the way God has shaped and formed them to be.”

One of the music leaders for the 2022 “What’s Next?” conference, the Rev. Marissa Galván-Valle, was also impressed by the depth of conversations that some 500 participants had about their lives, both spiritually and theologically.

“This blows my mind because the world seems to have grown disillusioned with church and religion,” she said. “It gives me hope for the present and future. In their leadership and questions, and in their enthusiasm, I find faith and joy.”

“During these times, ’What’s Next?’ is a brave question to ask,” she said. “We wanted to give participants the spiritual impetus to keep on going.”

In conversation groups, students talked with their leaders about how to distinguish between keeping on going and letting something go.

For Cykera Thomas, a junior at North Carolina Central University, it was helpful to hear others in her group talking about how they wanted to live in the present moment, and how they didn’t always know what was next.

“We talked about how we wanted leaders to help us figure that out,” she said. “We also asked the Spirit to tell us, in our bodies, whether we should keep going or let it go.”

The Rev. British Hyrams (center) is pictured with a couple of students at the 2022 College Conference at Montreat Conference Center. (Photo by UKirk at North Carolina Central University)

For Thomas’s UKirk campus ministry leader at NCCU, the Rev. British Hyrams, hearing students’ conversations — they talked about how for some just getting out of bed was success — was powerful.

She said the conference preacher, the Rev. John Molina-Moore, general presbyter of National Capital Presbytery, kept saying the word for the week was “trust.” Not belief, but trust — the kind that is in your soul and gut.

For Hyrams, exploring the conference theme of what’s next and how one is not alone in the uncertainty the future brings was just as powerful for her as it was for her students. Once she made the decision to travel to Montreat and made the journey, she didn’t have any regrets.

“It was the first time I’ve been able to be with my peers,” she said. “It was such a joy. Having discussions about keeping on going, when to let go and figuring out what’s next isn’t just for young adults. It’s for every person.”

‘Having discussions about keeping on going, when to let go and figuring out what’s next isn’t just for young adults. It’s for every person.’

For Galván-Valle, it was rewarding that participants — including so many Latinx young adults — told worship leaders how they felt a connection to the conference music.

And when she heard one of the conference keynoters, the Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon, say that “students can envision themselves leading and being part of something greater because they see someone like them doing it,” it made being at the conference in the midst of the pandemic worthwhile.

Students from UKirk at the University of Tennessee (Contributed photo)

“Representation in leaders matters a lot,” Galván-Valle said. “I was thrilled to be part of giving each person the opportunity to think of him or herself as capable of ‘being on this stage’ as a leader.”

According to the Rev. Gini Norris-Lane, executive director of UKirk Collegiate Ministries, “What’s Next?” was not only the theme for the 2022 College Conference, but also the question on the minds of campus ministers and chaplains across the network.

“How grateful we are for Montreat’s attention to detail and COVID protocols that allowed us to gather,” she said. “Yet we lament the reality that not all of our ministries felt they could not safely attend this year. While collegiate ministry will continue to be complicated because of the pandemic, it is the exact landscape where God is present and moving to bring about transformation in the lives of our students.”

 UKirk will hold its national gathering at Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center along Lake Tahoe in Zephyr Cove, Nevada, June 13-16. Information and registration is available here.

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