Virginia United Methodist students attend General Conference as part of class work
By the Rev. Judy Worthington, pastor of Bethel Belle Haven charge, Eastern Shore
The Rev. Rhonda Van Dyke Colby, a Virginia Conference delegate to General Conference, said she was first elected a delegate to General Conference when she was in her 20s. Since then she has pushed the conference to elect young adult delegates to each General Conference. Now, in her role as Vice President of Student Life at Shenandoah University, she is offering a class, the Global Nature and Ministry of The United Methodist Church, in which students attend General Conference.
“In addition to learning the process of General Conference,” Colby said, “our goal is to help students learn complex decision making, critical thinking and writing skills. They don’t necessarily have those skills when they enter.”
Through the class, a dozen students, led by Justin Allen, dean of Spiritual Life, came to Tampa to attend General Conference. Two of the 12 are Calling 21 students from Virginia Tech and Blue Ridge Community College. The rest of the students are from Shenandoah University.
Each student was assigned to track a legislative issue and attend Legislative Committee meetings just like delegates to General Conference. Each day they met together in community to discuss what they learned about the legislative process and issues.
“There is a risk to bringing them,” Colby said. “The risk is that some or all of them might be so turned off by the issues or the process that they no longer want to be part of the church.” She went on to say, “I’m pleased, though, that that has not been the case. They don’t all agree on the issues, but they all agree that what they have seen and learned is relevant and interesting.”
When asked how they felt about General Conference, the students were excited about their experiences. Some indicated they found the process frustrating and too much to take in, but all of them felt it was a valuable and interesting experience.
The global diversity in the delegate makeup and the diversity of voices in leadership was something the students had never seen before in The United Methodist Church.
“They enjoyed watching Virginia Conference delegates in Legislative Committees,” Allen said. “They asked questions of our delegates during breaks and were encouraged by the fact that every Virginia Conference delegate took time to talk with them and explain what was happening on the surface and what was happening behind the scenes to enact change.”
The students also indicated they were encouraged at seeing informal, non-mandated mentoring going on when they saw women clergy mentoring younger women clergy.
“It helped them think about who their mentors have been,” Allen said, “and how they planned to mentor younger college students when they come to the Shenandoah University campus.”