More than 200 Greater New Jersey leaders came out for “Growing the Church Younger,” a Day of Learning sponsored by the Northern Region Resource Team on Saturday, March 5th.
The day focused on equipping leaders to better understand, attract and build disciples of children, youth, young adults and young families. Workshops included focus on reaching millennials, covenant small groups for youth and young adults, spiritual growth for children in the digital world, holistic sexual education and values and mission partnership opportunities in Cuba. The event was tailored to and attracted UMC clergy, laity and Drew Theological students.
The event also celebrated the multiculturalism and diversity within the Northern Region which is comprised of the Palisades, Skylands and Gateway North Districts. Rev. Beth Caulfield, Director of Small Groups, opened the day by greeting participants in the eight different languages preached in the region’s churches. The opening worship, led by Eric Drew, Director of Worship, and a diverse band from around GNJ highlighted praise music in English and Spanish. Band members led prayer in Spanish and Korean and Nicole Caldwell Gross, Director of Mission, invited all present to pray in unison in their native tongues. New translation equipment was used to assist in reaching diverse worshippers in new ways. Translation was provided by Rev. Jin Kook Kim, Young Ji Kim, Sung Woo Lee, Rev. Onay Lopez, Rev. Charles Perez and Rev. Lourdes Magalhaes.
“I’ve been around GNJ for 17 years and this is the most sensitivity to and encouragement of multiculturalism I have ever seen. I am a big fan!” said Charles Perez, Pastor of First UMC in Dover. Perez also commented, “I feel especially good that GNJ is providing training and encouraging us to address the elephant in the room: the missing young people.”
Discipleship Ministries supported the event by leading several workshops. Melanie C. Gordon, Director of Ministry with Children at Discipleship Ministries led workshops on what children should expect from the church and how to equip parents to use resources in the digital world and social media to enhance their children’s spiritual growth. She commented at the end of the day that she was “very appreciative of being part of such a relevant and engaging event that attracted enthusiastic leaders.”
Millennial engagement was the hot topic for the day. Chris Wilterdink who also serves with Discipleship Ministries as the Director of Program Development for Young People’s Ministries led workshops on engaging millennials and authenticity and Trey Wince, GNJ’s Director for New Disciples followed up on his popular “Skinny Jeans” approach to millennials and discussed how to choose what to do just as you choose what to wear.
Dr. Kate Ott, author of Sex + Faith: Talking with Your Child from Birth to Adolescence and Assistant Professor of Ethics at Drew Theological School, taught two workshops on holistic sexuality. She commented “I was very appreciative for the diversity of individuals and congregational ministries that I was introduced to via my workshops.”
The workshop which covered controversial questions and how to approach them holistically was new to many attendees. Meryl Dietz, laity from Grace UMC in Wyckoff thanked her for this perspective and said she “hadn’t thought about teaching about sexuality holistically.”
The event was held at Bethany Wayne UMC. As hosts, the staff and laity at Bethany Wayne served radical hospitality. The United Methodist Women provided breakfast and lunch for the entire conference and the UM Men’s group handled the logistics like setting up tables and chairs and serving as parking lot attendants.
Beth Caulfield, as part of the Regional Leadership Team that organized the event said there were three things that made the event so successful, “Prayer, partnership and teamwork.”
“The organizing team was focused on creative, smart and bold action so that we could launch a new kind of event for Greater New Jersey,” said Caulfield. “The goal is to provide content to our congregations that is relevant to the issues they are facing today in a format that is accessible and fresh. We look forward to offering more such events, building on what we have learned and what we anticipate as needs for the future.”