Being the church of now, together: A YAAD’s reflection

Young Adult Advisory Delegate Kate Stoops thanks PC(USA) leaders who have shaped her; and she asks that young adults be taken seriously: “let us in,” she writes.

Hayley Hershenson (YAAD, John Calvin), Marcela Martinez (YAAD, Pacific), Ronston McKinney (YAAD, Dakota) and Shammah Takop (YAAD, Middle Tennessee) at GA 225. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

I was frequently asked at the General Assembly, “Why do young people keep leaving the church?” This is tricky. I won’t pretend to speak for all young people or young adult advisory delegates (YAADs). I can only speak as the 20-year-old college student from Seattle I happen to be. I love the church, and I didn’t grow up in it. I care about Christianity and the values Jesus teaches, but I don’t believe we are the only faith who meaningfully expresses them. And I go to a secular college. I know very few Christians there, not because I’m not looking, but because there aren’t many Christians choosing to attend my college.

Kate Stoops speaking with Teri McDowell Ott. Photo by Jonathan Watson for Presbyterian Outlook.

I often wonder why the values of Christianity still matter to me when so many people I care about have been either put off or, worse, traumatized and shamed by the church for their identities. For this reason, I have found it tricky to say “I’m a Christian” or wear a cross on campus; the church has inflicted too much harm on the people I know. And yet, when it really comes down to who Jesus calls us to be, I am consistently proud to be a Presbyterian, proud of the Book of Order as it changes and progresses, and proud to be in a denomination that cares about the intellectual aspects of Bible and seeks taking things to a deeper level. Above all, I’m proud to be a part of a denomination that takes social justice seriously and the deep love that goes along with it, a denomination seeking to live out Matthew 25.

I like the social aspects of this. The way I frame it to my atheist friends when talk about faith is, “these values matter a lot to me: to love your neighbor as yourself.” They usually nod and go, “Ahhh, yeah. Okay, that one’s pretty good.” I’m not sure that my experience is the right one to answer questions about why young people are leaving the church. But it’s true to what I know.

I’ve been the pink unicorn of my congregation for years: the one who stayed. It’s the story you hear from a lot of YAADs. We love the church and so we come to General Assembly to serve and listen and learn and speak our minds. And we did just that. We did it well and with honesty and with passion — and, sometimes, I think we were more articulate than the person 40 years our senior who spoke right after us.

I applied to serve in this role, was voted on by my presbytery, booked my own plane ticket, and got there on my own. After all of that, I was disappointed to show up and learn we had chaperones and that our votes did not officially count. Along with my fellow YAADs, I was called an inspiration many times. My photo was taken. But rather than getting a vote, we were offered youth group-esque activities every evening to make sure we did not go out. And people asked me why young people leave the church.

Young adult advisory delegates were told we are the church of now. And what if we did make that our mission? I don’t want to create a dichotomy between young adults and the leadership and body of our church. Together we are a vibrant, intelligent, energetic, thoughtful, funny and loving denomination. We need the adults to lead us. We need you and we want you. You have shaped us into who we are and loved us into being adults without contradictions. You teach us how to make faith a verb.

And you need us too. We will keep you honest and keep things moving and make you smile. Let us in. We love this church. Give us a seat at the table and a real opportunity to speak and vote; we will make it worth it. Let us all, together, be the church of now.