Youth in the Church are Not Just the Future, but the Now
When the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell was asked to speak at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium last year, he knew it would be both challenging and extremely personal.
“Not many preachers have the opportunity to address several thousand teenagers,” he says. “So I did this with a healthy dose of humility, fear and trembling, especially mindful that one of those teenagers was my own daughter.”
Gambrell is the father of two teenage daughters and an associate for worship in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Theology and Worship. He attends Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, where he volunteers to teach confirmation classes and has witnessed and guided the faith journey of many young people — including his daughters.
As each of us considers a gift to the Pentecost Offering, he says every person, young or old, should understand that ministry with youth is not a one-way street.
“They need to know they are valued — their gifts, wisdom and experiences are important,” Gambrell explains. “They need to know that we take them seriously and honor them as members of Christ’s body and we want to learn from them even as they learn from us.”
That’s one of the things Gina Yeager-Buckley, a mission associate for formation in the Office of Christian Formation, truly appreciates about being a Presbyterian — all people are welcomed into ministry.
“There is no age limit on being called,” she says. “It’s not just for older adults or the middle-aged. It includes youth, children, young adults and people who are single or married. Presbyterians understand that each of us is called to be in relationship with God and to share our faith.”
Yeager-Buckley handles the organization of the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, which is funded in part by the Pentecost Offering. The event is also supported by hundreds of volunteers — half adults, half teenagers — who work to develop the event every three years.
“Putting it together can be challenging. We don’t have a lot of money and we have a tiny staff,” said Yeager-Buckley. “But we have volunteers who give up their vacation time to help and who work together to truly meet the needs of teenagers as they explore and grow their faith.”
The Pentecost Offering supports not only the Presbyterian Youth Triennium. It is meant to unite all Presbyterians in a churchwide effort to support young people and inspire them to share their faith, ideas and unique gifts with both the church and the world.
“We tend to say something like ‘we’re investing in the future because the youth are the future of our church,’” says Gambrell. “But our youth already have gifts to give and important ways to serve and lead in the church. Supporting the Offering is a way to give youth the opportunity to do things and share their gifts in the present moment.”
Growing up in the church, Gambrell experienced what it meant to be “taken seriously” by other Presbyterians. As a result, he dedicated himself to God’s service —first as a young adult mission volunteer doing hurricane relief work and, then later, as a pastor, working through a doctoral program in worship, and now at the national offices.
It has helped him understand that each of us has something to offer the church and the community at all stages of our lives — including children, youth and young adults.
“All of us in the church have a responsibility to support the gifts of young people and experience the joy of connecting with them,” said Gambrell. “I think it is part of what it means to be connected in the body of Christ. Each person should consider the grace of God that they have received and think about how they can use those gifts to serve God and serve others — specifically through the youth ministries of the church.”
It’s a joy Gambrell experienced as both a faith leader and a father. Following his service at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, he received something that reaffirmed his commitment — a text from his daughter who had attended the service. It read simply, “I’m proud of you, dad.”
To find resources and ideas for taking part in the Pentecost Offering head to this website.
This was originally published for Presbyterian News Service on May 19, 2020.
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By giving to the Pentecost Offering, your congregation participates in helping our children, youth, and young adults grow up to proclaim with the Psalmist, "O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds."