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Proximity Changed My Perspective: NAD Youth and Young Adult Committee Report

Moose at Glacier View Ranch

From April 21-23, 2024, the North American Division Youth and Young Adult committee, composed of members and invitees from the congregation, conference, union, and division levels, gathered to define trajectory, develop methods of engagement, and vote on policies for all youth and young adult ministries in the division. I joined the gathering as an invitee and had the privilege of being in “the room where it happens.”

This year’s meeting took place at Glacier View Ranch in Colorado—in the same room, it turned out, where in 1980, Desmond Ford was dismissed from Adventist leadership for his challenges to some of the church’s beliefs on the investigative judgment. It was not lost on me that I shared a lifetime with someone removed from Adventist ministry simply for holding a different perspective and challenging traditional understandings. As a first time participant, I wondered if during the course of this committee meeting history might repeat itself in some way.

On the meeting’s first session, the demographics of those present caught my attention. A significant number were in their 50s and 60s, and raised questions for me about the group’s efficacy setting the trajectory for young adults. My consternation was short-lived not only because the room eventually filled with a healthy number of young adults, but also because the diversity of attendees within the room was astonishing; every demographic was represented either physically or by someone in the room willing to speak up on their behalf. It became clear that each person shared passion and concern for Adventist youth and young adults.

Serving on this committee opened my eyes to several things:

  1. Adventism is expressed very differently in the many parts of the North American Division. Though we share doctrines, Adventist culture varies from one territory to another, almost as though each region has its own personality. This is neither good nor bad, but regional peculiarities come into play especially for people seeking a faith community that aligns with their values and cultural preferences. The differences are not insignificant.
  2. The North American Division welcomes and encourages young adults voices. Throughout the meeting, no matter the topic, the leaders made clear that they wanted the input of the young adults present, and those throughout the division. At no point did I feel as if there was a veil separating me from any of the leaders. Questions and ideas from those under 40 always were received with warmth and openness; the older leaders seemed approachable and teachable. I spoke to two division-level directors, explaining that I often feel like some of our methods are antiquated. They received my perspective with enthusiasm, and seemed legitimately eager to hear suggestions. It felt encouraging that elder leaders do not merely speak about change they want to see, they help to enact it. 
  3. Many crucial topics received attention. Over the two days the committee met, the group discussed justice, mental health training, curriculum for evangelism, programs for discipleship, training on diversity and justice, engagement with individuals in the queer community, and equality for women in ministry. No topic was out of bounds. One of the most poignant moments of the meeting, if not of all my time participating in Adventist ministry, came when leaders opened the floor to the women in the room, inviting them to share the pain and discouragement they’ve experienced while serving in ministry. The room transformed into a healing space; tears flowed, women shared their painful stories and perspectives that seemed to resonate with all the women around me. The men in the room sat in solidarity, and many asked afterward what they could do to advocate better for their colleagues. Some stated that they had not apprehended the hurt Adventist women in ministry carry. Others apologized and vowed to do better. The breakthrough that happened in that space of vulnerability was humanizing and healing.
  4. I often felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data presented, but the information displayed the work and investment NAD leaders put in. The word “more” featured prominently. How can the division do more for youth and young adults? How can the church broaden its horizon and deepen its reach? What can NAD Adventists do differently to be more effective? The group explored ways to foster deeper connection, intimacy, and involvement. Though at times the methods proposed did not resonate with me, I always felt as though good ideas were on the horizon. Before this meeting, I had not appreciated how many moving parts comprise church leadership. Nor did I realize how many resources the division provides. The Adventist Learning Community offers free training for pastors and leaders on various topics; AdventSource is the NAD’s publishing house; and Young Adult Life Tour allows leaders to travel to thriving young adult ministries in the division, contribute to and learn from them. The NAD also publishes a peer-reviewed journal for youth and young adult ministries.

I have actively participated in ministries for much of my life. I have experienced deep burnout and disenfranchisement. I have contemplated whether I belong in this denomination or its leadership. When invited to this meeting, I was uncertain what would happen. I even feared that attending would add to some deep-seated frustrations I have felt. But instead, attending gave me new appreciation for these areas of ministry and the people who lead them. One anecdote from my time on the committee best exemplifies my experience. 

I have loved animal documentaries as long as I can remember, and when a moose wandered within feet of the cafeteria, my heartbeat revealed the joy I felt. I had only ever seen a moose in documentaries, but standing feet away from one, separated only by cafeteria walls and windows, I swiftly realized this animal is significantly larger than I could conceptualize seeing it on screen. Proximity changed my perspective. 

Likewise, I realized that involvement with the church on a local level seldom provides a full understanding of the work, effort, and investment happening behind the scenes. There are still parts of Adventism I struggle to reconcile. There are leaders and the spaces created by those leaders that are oppressive, outdated, and unsafe. Undeniably, Adventism needs growth, but I believe that the possibility of growth is a sign of life; dead things don’t grow. I felt as though the meeting room was filled with people committed to the work of growth. I sat among leaders not motivated by power or position but by the demographic they serve. I left persuaded that there are leaders in this church who are for us. They want to learn, hear our voices and perspectives. They want to engage in tough and uncomfortable conversations; they want to see the change and be the change. There are leaders of this church who want young adults to thrive in this world and in our faith, and for that, I feel grateful.

About the author

Ezrica Bennett graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Oakwood University. She has worked as a book editor for the Loma Linda University School of Medicine and has written for the Adventist Review and the Southeastern California Conference. She is a writer, public speaker, and coach, passionate about working with young adults to help them navigate life and faith, and a youth elder at the Loma Linda University Church. More from Ezrica Bennett.
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