This is the eighth in a series of reports on initiatives funded through the budget of The Episcopal Church in its grants to Mission Enterprise Zones. Acts 8 Moment also has a series of reports on those receiving Church Planting Grants.
The years from 18 to 35 offer a very difficult transition period for many young adults. Many worry about finding a job and more importantly finding something meaningful to do with their lives. They worry for the state of the world and want to positively impact their community. And for many who grew up active in churches as teens, this can also be a time of disengagement with any community of faith of any kind. The Diocese of Iowa is actively working with the young adults in the diocese to bridge this divide and a Mission Enterprise Zone from The Episcopal Church is helping to fund that work.
Lydia Bucklin (pictured here at EDS with her family) is a seminarian in the Distance Learning Program at Episcopal Divinity School and the Diocese of Iowa’s Missioner for Young Adults. As a part of here Field Education for seminary, she met with a group of young adults who had grown up in diocesan youth ministry, but who were no longer attending church. She wanted to know why there seemed to be a disconnect between the needs of young adults and what the church was offering. She reports, “I heard from them that they wanted to remain connected to one another and that distance did not necessarily need to be a barrier.”
She used her field placement as an opportunity to create an intentional community for young adults called “The Well”. The Well is a hybrid community that includes a Facebook page, regular gatherings through Adobe Connect video conferencing, and regional in-person gatherings inAmes, Cedar Falls, Des Moines, and Monticello. Currently, there are more than fifty members in this community throughout Iowa and beyond. Bucklin saysm “We celebrated Christmas with dinner at church, Passover at the bishop’s house, had a week-long summer retreat, went boating and had Eucharist at a park around a picnic table, and ultimately together have formed a spiritual community that holds one another in prayer and celebrates the joys and challenges of life together.”
Her work expanded to the creation of a Young Adult Ministry Development Team (YAMDT) for the Diocese. Ministry Development Teams are built around an understanding of baptismal ministry, a collaborative way of being, in which all gifts are honored and all voices are heard.
The Mission Enterprise Zone grant, which required matching funds through the Diocese of Iowa, has provided the ability to gather the Young Adult Ministry Development Team and to host a variety of events around the diocese focused on young adult ministry. The Young Adult Ministry Development Team now consists of a group of more than 35 people passionate about ministering with and among young adults in the Diocese of Iowa. They represent congregations in rural and urban areas, with young adults both on and off of college campuses. More than half of our members are under the age of 30.
One of the YAMDT’s first tasks, when they gathered in February, 2014, was to define young adulthood and to explore what life looks like for this particular social location. Young adults, for the purpose of our ministry, are those post high school, roughly between the ages of 18-35. The diversity of this population is great. With some in college (universities, private colleges, and community colleges), others working full time, some serving in the armed forces, some living at home with their parents, some with children of their own, and many financially insecure.
In late June, the Diocese and the YAMDT hosted “Camp Ruah”, a retreat for young adults ages 18-40 as an opportunity for refreshment and renewal. Each day included opportunities for spiritual direction, meditation, worship, fellowship, and physical wellness. The Pictured Rocks Camp provided a climbing wall, the Maquoketa caves, many hiking trails, outdoor worship space, an olympic sized pool, and a river for exploration and tubing.
As the YAMDT gathered, they could point to some hopeful signs of engagement with young adults happening around their Diocese. In addition to The Well, some examples include:
- St. Paul’s, Grinnell which bakes birthday cakes and delivers them to students on campus. They have been doing this ministry for more than 60 years and hear from students and parents that this gift means so much, with birthdays as one of the hardest times to be away from home for many students.
- A number of church communities, such as St. John’s in Dubuque, Trinity in Muscatine, and Trinity Cathedral in Davenport, have hosted meals for young adults, providing an opportunity for fellowship and deeper conversation.
- The Cathedral Church of St. Paul launched a Saturday evening service that met both outdoors and in the smaller Chapel space. The alternative worship time and format seemed to draw in a number of young adults.
- The Church of the Savior, Orange City, a relatively new church plant located in a house on the edge of campus that continues to fill their space each week with students from Northwestern College.
- Threehouse, a campus ministry at the University of Northern Iowa in partnership with the United Methodist Church is truly a “third space” and an example of radical hospitality. Hundreds of students utilize the space, which includes a rotating art gallery, innovative worship space, a community kitchen, meeting rooms, a game room, and a large space for dance and fitness classes in the basement.
- James Tener, Campus Chaplain at Iowa State University engages students through music with the choir, as well as other Episcopal students on campus in regular programing and formation. Jim and the students at ISU are in the process of planning a spiritual retreat for college students that will most likely take place during the upcoming school year.
- The University of Iowa in Iowa City continues to invite students into the powerful ministry of the Agape Café, a weekly feeding program that serves breakfast free of charge at Old Brick, a historical building located on the campus of the University of Iowa. The Rev. Raisin Horn’s pastoral presence and engagement with students, faculty, and staff weaves the campus ministry into the fabric of Trinity, Iowa City.
So how can a congregation or diocese reach such a vastly diverse population as young adults? Bucklin says, “I believe the answer lies in the hands of the local community.” Congregations can ask “Who are your young adult neighbors?” The members of the YAMDT, bolstered by the examples above, believe there are things every community might do to reach out to this population. With assistance from the Mission Enterprise Zone Grant they are continuing to gather and to explore how best to support this ministry to the 18-35 year olds in their midst who are navigating a difficult transition period in their lives.