By Lynne Foreman
In the late 1980s, when I was serving as a youth group leader in my local congregation, my pastor invited me to attend a gathering that I recognize now as the early stages of a new movement for youth in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Even as I was being drawn headlong into the phenomenon that was — and still is — the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, I had no idea how the lens through which I viewed the PC(USA) was about to change.
As I look back, I realize that by sending me to Triennium, my youth minister was nurturing my personal commitment to Jesus Christ, while also fostering my gifts for inspiring my peers and reaching out to youth both in the church and the local community. Newly energized, I set about building relationships and encouraging participation in worship, Sunday school, retreats and mission trips, which in many instances helped introduce life-giving ministry to young people with no previous connection to the PC(USA) — young people who were facing the challenges of poverty and structural racism in their daily lives.
These were the formative days of what would become for me a deep, personal desire to serve and to create a foundation of faith as set forth in Psalm 71:17: “O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.”
Nowadays, I always pair that verse with the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation and our denomination’s renewed emphasis on “building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty,” goals that have been at the heart of the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program since its inception nearly three decades ago.
Through the program — in which a traditional YAV year runs from August to August — young adults ages 19–30 are invited to engage in world issues, commit to self-reflection and learn about the “least of these,” all while living out the Matthew 25 vision as they lean into “a year of service for a lifetime of change.”
According to Destini Hodges, interim coordinator for the YAV program, because the YAV program has been heavily focused on racial reconciliation and poverty for the past 27 years, it has been part of the Matthew 25 invitation even before it became a vision of the whole Church.
YAVs are supported, in part, through the Pentecost Offering, one of the PC(USA)’s four Special Offerings. Not only does the offering benefit the YAV program, but it also supports the Youth Triennium — so transformational in my own life — and the “Educate a Child, Transform the World” national initiative. A unique feature of this shared offering is that 40% of it is retained by individual congregations for local ministries while the remaining 60% is used to support children-at-risk, youth and young adults through ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Please join us in helping to build future leaders and, in so doing, proclaiming God’s wondrous deeds.
Lynne Foreman is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s mission engagement advisor for the Northeast Region and the Young Adult Volunteer program.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of Mission Crossroads.