By Tamica Smith-Jeuitt, Senior Communications Specialist
The Rev. Brad Sartor (photo right) sat at a front table during a meeting with his peers -- clergy under the age of 40 -- just a few weeks before his 40th birthday. He was enthusiastic, often jotting down notes with a serious facial expression and even cracking a big smile following comments from around the room, particularly after remarks from Mississippi Area Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr., who invited the group to join for open dialogue at Anderson United Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi.
"I think it is a wonderful thing that the bishop is doing, listening to a younger generation that is really seeing the changes that is taking place in our society and the church and their lives in a very forward way. The challenges are great that are facing the church, and as leadership and clergy, we need to be grounded and I believe this bishop is helping us do that," said Sartor who serves in the New Albany District.
Approximately 70 participants, including some district superintendents and conference staff were present for the gathering facilitated by Swanson. His said his purpose was three-fold.
First, to affirm to Mississippi's youngest spiritual leaders, they are leading the denomination, a fact that Swanson said young clergy should feel good about.
"They are leading The United Methodist Church in having the most number of clergy under 35... I want to discover what are some of the factors that are helping us to lead the General Conference and I felt who best to ask that than them and they have given us at least 30-35 different reasons why and so we are looking at those and processing," explained Swanson who teased about not quickly sharing those reasons, but he did credit relationships for being behind Mississippi's under 35 success.
Swanson's second point was to encourage clergy to develop a good relationship with the office of the bishop.
"Over the years as they (clergy under 40) continue to serve, (for some of them as much as 40 more years) have a good working relationship with the bishop and know that we are part of this ministry together," Swanson added.
"It sounds like the bishop and the cabinet are really interested in listening to the young clergy... I think that is a gift and grace and shows a lot of promise for the future of young clergy," stated Starkville District's Rev. Sarah Jo Adams-Wilson (photo right), one of the youngest clergy persons attending at age 26.
Swanson said his third goal was for clergy to feel a sense of comradery and get to know each other.
"They were really excited about hearing each other's stories and I think what we did here was create a safe place where they could share their stories... a lot this even brought tears."
The Rev. Kevin Kosh Jr. (photo below, right) who is also age 26 and new to the Mississippi Conference (from the Missouri Conference) is the director of the Alcorn State University Wesley Foundation. He shared his appreciation for Swanson bringing them together.
"It provided ways for us to understands everyone's experiences and perspectives on what brought them to Mississippi and how the Mississippi Annual Conference can be better and how we can perform ministries in more effective ways just being able to hear everyone's ideas and experiences helped put into context what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ."
In closing, Swanson informed the clergy to expect messaging in the coming year around Spiritual Leadership Incorporated (SLI), an initiative focusing on loving, learning and leading. The under 40 clergy plans to meet again even though the ones turning 40 will not be joining them, but will be there in spirit in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.