Young Adult Volunteer program opens eyes to the church’s relevance in our world
Sitting on a city bus in Washington, DC, with the plight of homeless people weighing heavily on him, Andy Thomas experienced a homecoming of faith. This Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) had attended a memorial service for the 41 homeless people who had died in the nation’s capital in 2015. Andy and others had marched through the streets with signs bearing their names. After the service ended, his YAV colleague Lynette decided to participate in an overnight vigil outside a government building in honor of those who had perished. Andy didn’t stay, but he gave her his beanie to help keep her warm and headed home on the bus.
He knew Lynette would be safe, but he felt the need to pray for her and for “the well-being of every soul who doesn’t have a place to call home.” As he prayed, he felt tears coming down his face. “And for the first time in my life,” he says, “I had this overwhelming feeling that the Holy Spirit was with me.”
The son of a Presbyterian pastor, Andy grew up going to church, but like many others, he drifted away as a teenager. While he continued to respect his parents and the congregation where he was raised, he felt the institutional church lacked the sense of community and relevance his heart craved.
After college, he left his native Arizona for Oregon, hoping to land a job with a non-profit organization to work for “positive change.” No career opportunity came his way, and after a year of waiting tables in Portland for a living, he considered his mother’s suggestion that he apply to the YAV program. He had a desire to serve but was unsure about working in a church context. “I didn’t want to spend a year with church people,” he admits. Nevertheless, he applied to be a YAV and accepted the offer to serve in Washington, DC.
His attitude began to change when he arrived at Church of the Pilgrims, a Presbyterian congregation there. The diverse congregation seemed to embrace the message on its front door: “All are Welcome,” and he admired how members built connections with one another and with the surrounding inner-city community.
Andy and other YAVs joined with the congregation in serving the neighborhood and amplifying the concerns of those whose voices often go unheard. Though at first reluctant, he soon found himself participating with YAV colleagues in daily spiritual practices of prayer, Bible study, and theological reflection. His experience at Pilgrims and with his YAV group led this former church skeptic toward the encounter with God he experienced on that city bus.
Andy is among hundreds of YAVs whose lives have been forever changed by their year of service. Through your gifts to the Pentecost Offering, you are helping to change lives and prepare leaders for the Presbyterian Church. Sixty percent of the offering goes to the YAV program and other national causes that serve youth, young adults, and children at risk. Forty percent is retained by the congregation for local ministries that empower individuals in this crucial first third of life.
Let us pray
Faithful God, we pray for young people who struggle in their faith journey.
We give thanks for the YAV program and for other opportunities
that offer renewal and hope and that guide young people in Christian formation.
Thank you for communities that transform us and our world. Amen.