When most of us head for church on a Sunday morning, we are not surprised to settle into the pew and see someone with a graying head of hair stand in front of the congregation, ready to make announcements and lead worship. For a long time, in our denomination, our clergy have been “aging”, and most of us have had the experience of our pastor being older than we are (or, at best, about the same age).
As the old Bob Dylan song goes – “The times they are a’changin!” In more and more churches these days, the preacher of the day is under 40 years old – sometimes under 30! And, in my experience, these preachers can PREACH! Today in the Iowa Conference, we are blessed to have become “home” to more than 20 young clergy under the age of 40 – and that number is growing fast. They share their gifts in a variety of places and roles, serving as Pastors of small and mid-sized churches and Associate Pastors in larger churches and Hospital Chaplains. They are spread all over the state – in rural settings, in urban ministries, in churches that are growing and in churches that haven’t seen a new member in a long time. Week after week, they are faithfully preaching and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ – mostly to and with folks who are a generation older than they are.
The stresses and strains of ministry are well known, and are often intensified for younger clergy who carry heavy loads of student debt and who are new to everything they are doing. While the blessing of ministry abound, the stressors too often weigh heavily. The Iowa Conference is committed to doing something about that. Rich and the Board of Directors are launching an experiment, designed to provide “connection and support” for these fresh, gifted, new ministers. The vision combines regular connections through personal visits with an opportunity to gather together twice a year in a workshop/retreat setting to explore together the skills and the gifts that they already have and that they want to grow.
I am deeply grateful to these young ministers. They are gifted in amazing ways, full of energy and vision for the churches they serve and for the UCC as a whole. They see the need for change and they are giving themselves to the hard work of making that happen. When they look ahead, they see – not just the next 10 or 15 years – but far into the 21st Century, to a time when the church will be very different…and yet still grounded in the amazing truth that Jesus Christ is Lord. The churches of the Iowa Conference are blessed to have so many fresh, new, energetic and prophetic folk among our leadership these days!
—Katherine Mulhern, Young Clergy Advocate in Iowa Conference