Speaking with the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, young adults lament lack of opportunity to influence the future of the church they will inherit
April 14, 2023
The Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly (2022), gathered with a group of young adult delegates and young adult volunteers (YAVs) at the close of the second day of the recent 67th Commission on the Status Women to share stories and experiences as young adults in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It was an open space with frank and vulnerable discussions, so the names of the young adults are not included in this report to respect them and their voices.
Starting their time together, Starling-Louis shared some of her own experiences over the years as a young adult and person of color in the PC(USA). She recognized the challenges the church presents. “I love our denomination and I love you all, but the space is imperfect,” said Starling-Louis. “I was once at the bottom of the barrel of our presbytery in regard to salary and I have never given this church the bottom of the barrel.”
She acknowledged that this space is not equipped to take care of women and historically marginalized people. “I am your sister, your sibling. I do not have all the answers, but I am here to listen. There is justice in the doing and preparing the space for change,” said Starling-Louis.
The Co-Moderator asked the group how they feel their roles should be shaped in the future of the church and what their ideas of representation looked like.
The responses were rich, full and complex — mixed with hope for the future and dismay at the lack of priority placed on young adults to hold significant roles in the church.
“As a candidate for ministry in my presbytery, it is a lot of other people holding the reins for my ordination and that feels uncomfortable,” said one delegate, “especially in light of the recent concerns around the most recent exegesis ordination exam [requiring seminarians to exegete one of the most difficult texts in the Bible, Judges 19:1–30].”
Another delegate shared concerns around membership in the PC(USA). “People my age are starting to build families and in the past few years there have been aggression and hate around particular issues. We need to be reaching out to the younger people and give them another option of a place to build your family in a loving and inclusive environment.”
Rich discussion evolved around inclusivity and finding a place in the church. “I feel like we are teetering on the edge of something transformational,” said one delegate, while another added, “the PC(USA) has been set up for transformation.” The energy among the delegates continued to grow along with the subject. “We can’t wait. We need to own our power,” said one.
One YAV shared her concern that there is a huge disconnect between what happens at General Assembly every two years and what happens in the churches. “They write papers that no one reads. We have a very conservative structure in place with liberal ideals and other denominations — the more evangelical — are the opposite, and that is why they are attracting the youth.”
“Our duty as the church is to say there is another way to do church,” said another delegate.
As a whole they agreed that more investment of time and money needs to be made in youth and young adults. “In spaces like this and looking at these faces, I am hopeful,” said one. “But then I go back to church and feel disparaged. Invest in the youth. We are the ones who are going to be here down the line.”
“Young people don’t feel invested in. They use our faces for promotions but don’t listen to our voices.”
The CSW is a rare space of intergenerational women gathering. All the young adults gathered expressed gratitude for this opportunity.
“We have real bodies with real needs and real impact. We are disembodied from the structure. It was not created with real people in mind. The church lies,” Starling-Louis reminded them. “I love the church. That’s why I can say these things.”
She ended their time together by asking, “How can we stay connected? How can we encourage each other?”
Melody K. Smith, Associate Director for Digital and Marketing Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Voices of young adult delegates speak to PC(USA) Co-Moderator
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Shelby Andrews, 1001 Apprentice, 1001 New Worshiping Communities, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Jeffrey Arnold, Executive Director, Association of Presbyterian Colleges & Universities (APCU)
Let us pray
God, who created the world when all was chaos and void — as we wonder, not knowing where we go, and when all seems dark — say again, we pray, “Let there be light.” Amen.