Student group seeks support


By Shawn Foles
Guest Columnist

Greetings to the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church from the United Methodist Student Movement (UMSM). I represent the Southeastern Jurisdiction on the UMSM Steering Committee. It is an honor and privilege to have been elected by my peers to represent the largest jurisdiction in the United Methodist Church. I take great pride in representing my conference, the Seashore District and The University of Southern Mississippi on this committee.

On May 22-25, we held our annual UMSM Student Forum. Over the course of these days, we draw together more than 370 United Methodist students from across the country for a time of worship, prayer and discussion of topics pertinent to the future of the United Methodist Church.

Mississippi has a long history of involvement in the UMSM although most in the conference do not know about it. By the time my two-year stint on the Steering Committee ends next year, a Mississippi student will have sat on the committee for five years. I feel honored to follow Theon Johnson III and Simone Furtado in representing our great state on this committee.

I thank all those have made a commitment to recognizing that we are not just the leaders of tomorrow but the leaders of today. I offer a special thank you to Bishop Hope Morgan Ward for her efforts to include the youth and college-age students in the working of the conference. Finally, I say a special thank you to a man who is a personal hero of mine who has been a champion for the work college students accomplish in the UMC, Dr. Aubrey Lucas.

I would like to share with you a letter to the annual conference from the UMSM Steering Committee. Every conference as well as all jurisdictional offices will be receiving a copy of this letter. A video made by the Steering Committee will accompany this letter to the Council of Bishops.

Dear fellow leaders of the United Methodist Church, 

We would like to address this Annual Conference regarding the current activity of our organization.  The UMSM includes college students from across the country and its leadership, the steering committee, is comprised of student leaders appointed and elected from each jurisdiction in the U.S. We are a diverse group of students with representation across racial, cultural, ethnic and theological backgrounds, and we feel blessed to experience the unique gifts and perspectives of such a group. We are grateful for the wonderful support we receive from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today.

Over Memorial Day weekend, the UMSM met at American University in Washington D.C. for Student Forum. Our theme, "Be the Change", resonated through the event in joyful worship services, thoughtful Bible studies, and 11 General Board of Church and Society assisted topical social justice immersion trips. We learned about ways to change the structures that foster injustice and oppression; we encountered grace and healing and a community of students committed to answering God's call.

 It has become a great concern of the UMSM that we are not respected as effective and intrinsic components of the discourse and development of the greater United Methodist Church. It is common knowledge that the ages of 18-25 is a time of tremendous faith development, and when young adults decide whether they will remain in the church. Campus Ministries provide support and outreach to people during this time of development and discernment.  Six out of ten people who go into college as Christians leave college without their faith. This is partially due to a lack of students' access to effective and passionate campus ministers and to closure or under-funding of campus ministries each year. 

The entire budget for UM campus ministries in 2006 was less than$20 million.  It is our responsibility to bring to your attention that Campus Crusade for Christ raised $750 million in 2006 for its campus ministries efforts, or more than 35 times what we provided. As budgets for campus ministries are being cut across the country, our ability to make disciples is hindered.

For campus ministries to be effective they require funding, well-trained leadership and community support. UMSM is asking each annual conference to make campus ministries a priority; for the distribution of funds, appointment of pastors and time devoted to the prayerful consideration of the importance of ministry with students.

Though it is commonly stated that young adults are the leaders of tomorrow, we witnessed time and time again during Forum how our young adults are indeed the leaders of today.  Among the many resources we bring are passion, creativity and the hope that the UMC can indeed commit to "making disciples for the transformation of the world." We are those disciples; share with us the resources of the pastoral guidance and funding we need, and that the church as a whole needs us to receive. 

We will one day assume the leadership roles you currently hold, thus if our voices are not heard and gifts are not fostered today, the efficacy of our leadership will be deeply hindered in the future.  

How will you commit to us? We're waiting in prayer. 

Foles is a senior at the University of Southern Mississippi. He is a member of Nugent United Methodist Church in the Seashore District.