Assembly approves changes in age requirements for Young Adult Advisory Delegates

Also allowed: youth participation from new worshipping communities and immigrant fellowships.

Moderator Jen Jennings (left) and Carson Rhyne (parliamentarian, right) at the moderator’s table of the Standing Rules Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Louisville, Kentucky — The General Assembly has approved changes in the Standing Rules altering the requirements for who can serve as Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs) to the assembly.

The changes the assembly approved July 6 to STAN-22 say presbyteries may elect as a YAAD someone who:

  • Is an active member of a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation, or
  • Is a participant in a new worshipping community or an immigrant fellowship that has a relationship with the presbytery; and
  • Is between 18 and 23 years old on the day the assembly convenes.
Mike Kirk, general counsel for PC(USA) administrative services group, speaks to protection requirements for minor-aged YAADs. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

That’s a change from the current rule, which allows YAADs to be as young as 17. Mike Kirk, general counsel for the denomination, said hosting minors at General Assembly presents complications and additional expense because any YAAD under the age of 18 requires a chaperone throughout the proceedings, in compliance with a PC(USA) policy for protection of children, youth and vulnerable adults.

But the assembly amended the recommendation of the assembly’s Standing Rules Committee, which called for an age range of 18-26, instead of the current 17 to 23. During the deliberations, some YAADs spoke against that – with Nagwa Fokunang of the Presbytery of Utah saying, “I would rather not be a YAAD with some grown adult men,” who could be married with children.

Her statement got some responses on Twitter, including this from commissioner Evan Hansen, a minister from the Presbytery of Geneva:

So the assembly scaled back the upper age — a little reluctantly for some commissioners, who wanted to encourage more participation from young adults. The changes the assembly approved, by a 380-14 vote, take effect at the close of this assembly.

A proposed change that was voted down 164-222: a requirement for YAADs to be baptized. Some commissioners argued baptism should be required. “That is the basis of our commonality,” said Becky Fox, a minister from Palo Duro Presbytery. “The sacrament of baptism is what unites us.”

Andrew Rice, a minister from the Presbytery of West Virginia, said “baptism is probably the most basic aspect of Christian identity.”

But some YAADs spoke against adding it, saying not all new worshipping communities offer baptism. “The point of new worshipping communities is that they are different from the traditional church,” said Daniel Herron, a YAAD from Olympia Presbytery. Requiring baptism is “just adding a wall for a lot of young people to having their voices heard at General Assembly.”

The level of participation of young adults has been a concern at this hybrid assembly. About 90 of the 166 presbyteries elected YAADS, but only 75 registered and only 60 attended in-person committee meetings in Louisville, according to Jeff Moles, who coordinates the YAAD program at the assembly.

Commissioners at the Standing Rules Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

During Zoom plenary sessions, sometimes fewer than 30 YAADs have voted. Despite the low numbers, YAADs represent more than half of those participating under the age of 45.

The Standing Rules Committee had a mountain of recommendations to work through — but the assembly approved much of it on the consent calendar during the first plenary. Among the items still left to be addressed July 6:

  • STAN-38: The assembly approved language regarding diversity in appointing moderators and vice moderators of assembly committees. The assembly approved language stating “consideration should be given to all gender identities,” and all synods should be represented “across the full spectrum of moderator and vice-moderator appointments.”
  • STAN-36: The assembly voted to authorize the creation of a special committee to review the current Standing Rules and to propose a new set of Standing Rules to the General Assembly in 2024.