In the fall of 2010, the charge conference of Faith United Methodist Church in Lititz, Pa., took a routine vote that would have repercussions that conference members could not have imagined.
Having met an impressive young member named Jordan Harris soon after my appointment to be the pastor of Faith UMC, I suggested that we make Jordan the alternate lay delegate to annual conference. The church that had nurtured his faith, and supported and encouraged his growth, voted in agreement and set in motion a series of events that would eventually result in Jordan Harris becoming elected as a lay delegate to General Conference at the age of 19. As the first alternate, Jordan would later become a voting delegate when another lay delegate dropped from the delegation.
The result, according to Dr. Mary White, head of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference delegation, is that Jordan Harris is the youngest person since the ‘70s to become a voting delegate from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference to General Conference.
I could tell you how important the ministry of faithful and effective small local churches is in making things like this happen through empowering their young people; or I could write about how much all who care about Jordan have watched Jordan stretch and grow over the past year as he prepared to represent our conference; I could write about how I have watched him carry himself with patience and humility and integrity throughout his time here at General Conference.
Instead, I will ask him to speak for himself:
Jordan, what has surprised you most about your experience at General Conference?
I think what has surprised me most about my experience here at General Conference has been seeing the world church meeting here – how many people come from so many different countries, not only to be delegates, but to be visitors and marshals and pages and just to take part in the ministry that is General Conference.
Who is the most interesting person you have met?
A delegate who is the president of a seminary in Norway. We had a very nice discussion on one of the church fathers, I think it was Augustine. And it was just so interesting to hear her take on his writings. It was very interesting to talk to someone like her of a different age and from a different country.
Speaking of age, what has been most exciting for you about the young people’s presence here at General Conference? And as well, after that, what has been the most challenging?
It is extremely encouraging to see other young people and how passionate they are about the church – even how passionate they are about things that don’t even pertain to them yet, like the pension program. It is great seeing young people from seminaries here, in classes and writing papers on General Conference, and it’s great seeing other people on track to become clergy – and not just ordained elders, but also deacons. And there are young people who are in seminary who don’t necessarily want to become clergy; they just have a passion for The United Methodist Church and learning about God.
What has been most challenging is the way in which young people are represented, and the way that some young people tend to represent themselves. Since young people are in a sense a minority, it’s kind of difficult when someone says, “I’ve talked to a young person and they want this.” And it’s also just as difficult to hear a young person say, “I, as a young person, want this,” and kind of stand up for the interests of all young people. In actuality, young people are not necessarily a conformed or close-knit caucus; rather, we are a group of individual people with individual beliefs all trying to discern God’s will just like every other individual here at General Conference.
What has been the most spiritually uplifting part of General Conference for you?
I would say every night at 8:30 has been the most spiritually uplifting part – just when we stop from plenary and it’s time to worship. And whether or not the worship service is spiritually uplifting isn’t anywhere as incredible as just getting to worship with the world church and getting to worship knowing that there are people around you from different states and countries and continents.
It is so spiritually uplifting to worship as a part of the Body of Christ, which we always do, but here at General Conference you get to worship as a part of the Body of Christ in a way that you can see it more physically. One of my favorite things to do is to say the Lord’s Prayer, and they always say, “In your own language,” and so instead of focusing on what you’re saying, you focus on hearing the world pray that one prayer that Jesus taught, and it’s not all in English and it’s not all perfectly in unison like you might experience in a local church, but it’s in all different sorts of languages and all different dialects.
What is one thing that you would want people who are not here to know about the work you all are trying to do here that they might not know through Facebook or Twitter or the live stream?
I want people back home to know that there are people here who are honestly trying to do their best to represent everyone who isn’t elected a delegate because not everyone can be elected a delegate. So there are definitely people here who are prayerfully discerning the future of the church and not just coming with amendments and proposals so that they can get their name written down or get some kind of recognition. But there are really people here who genuinely care about The United Methodist Church – and when I say that I do mean the worldwide church, the global church, but I also mean the local church. They genuinely care about the congregations and the laity and the clergy that they are representing.
How has it been working with the Eastern Pennsylvania delegation?
Our delegation has been really supportive. And I get this constantly, all day, “Are you OK? Do you need anything? Are you understanding?” which is a great problem to have – people caring too much. I love our delegation. We’re starting to meet in the mornings and sort of form more of an Eastern Pennsylvania community. I like our delegation because we are really just a family right now, and it’s great getting to work with both clergy and laity who have been such great leaders in our annual conference.
Jordan Harris will begin his senior year at Eastern University in September. His home when he is not at school is with his family in Lancaster County, Pa., where he is a member of Faith United Methodist Church and serves as lay member to annual conference. He hopes to attend seminary after finishing at Eastern in 2013 and is looking forward to continuing his study of ministry in the classroom, the local church and the streets outside the church. This month he will be celebrating his 21st birthday.
The Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner is appointed to serve as the Division of Ministries with Young People staff person for the Northeastern Jurisdiction. She is based out of Wilmington, Del., where she spends most of her time out in the streets working to form community for urban young people. On May 18, she looks forward to being ordained as an Elder in Full Connection in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference.