TNG - The Next Generation
by Kyle Kelley
"I'm so glad to be in a room with a bunch of young people," Patsy Perritt was overheard to say. As "first lady" to the incoming CBF-LA Moderator, Ron Perritt, she was present with him for the Together for Hope retreat of the "ALMA" (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas) region. In the brisk cool Mississippi air, we came together at the Timber Creek Camp in Pulaski to refresh, swap stories, share the load and do a little knitting. That is, stitching the tapestry of partnership in the great work of Together for Hope.
She was right. Our line workers at the retreat, the women getting it done as missionary/coordinators/practitioners for Together for Hope were all "20-somethings." They are Jenny Hodge, from Louisiana, Lane Riley from Mississippi and Molly Palmer and Stacey Henderson from Arkansas. These are intelligent, committed, passionate and creative souls who in Eugene Peterson's words are practicing a "long obedience." The work of Christian Community Development is not the work of a day and not for the faint.
Team Together for Hope: from left, Jenny Hodge-Louisiana; Stacey Henderson and Molly Palmer-Arkansas; Lane Riley-Mississippi; and Stephanie Vance CBF National Together for Hope Manager;
We have to prepare for the struggles. These are hard places. It takes grit, patience and faith to stick with a calling "even when God doesn't do the thing we think God is supposed to do," stated Christian Byrd, the also rather youngish Coordinator for CBF-Mississippi in the evening devotional. Christian took us on an Emmaus Walk through the night chill reenacting that journey of the two disciples whose world had collapsed only to be "strangely warmed" by the Voice who somehow seemed familiar. Then the scales fell from their eyes. "The same road by which we walk away from God is the same road by which we return."
God still surprises, still brings new vision. One of those surprises is the young faces, the youthful energy.
A few years ago at a national CBF meeting, my daughter commented on how old everyone was. That was then. Now at General Assembly, us gray hairs (or gray beards) are becoming the minority. Last year they ran out of room in the children and youth programs. Families, young people -- new life is upon us in the Fellowship.
I remember hearing former Global Missions Coordinator Rob Nash say his main job was to get all the old folks out of the way in CBF so the young folks could lead. He seems to have succeeded and in fact following his own advice was himself gone in a couple years. His replacement? It is the "twenty-something-looking" (though actually in his 40's) Steven Porter, who is bringing fresh innovation and paradigm-shifting passion to missions not merely as a "project," but as a lifestyle. "Exegete your community," he says. We may have to look that one up.
And in Louisiana, did it sneak up on you? How about that insurgence of young pastors serving in CBF churches around our state - Griff Martin, Elizabeth Lott, Chris Thacker, Jeff Raines, John Henson?
Post-modern, post-denominational, post-blah-blah-blah, whatever you call it, we are in a different time. We are blessed with fresh, new leadership, pastors who get it, this new time. They are all about building faith communities not with new gimmicks but with new engagement, drilling deeper in the timeless Gospel.
The joke is that Washington DC is run by "twenty-somethings." The politicians are out raising money, cutting ribbons and acting important. They don't have time to read, much less write the laws or tend to policy. That falls to the young staffers who work incredibly long hours doing tireless research.
We are blessed with our own tireless "twenty-somethings" at the front line in the Together for Hope work. Don't put them on a pedestal. Don't tell them they are anything more than ordinary saints. They will ask you where God is calling you in this work and give you a job.
Maybe the best way they are leading us is by modeling partnership, cooperation, working together. They need our prayers and support and we need to follow them.
Recent articles from me have focused on the rich legacy of our cloud of witnesses in Louisiana and those inspiring builders, some of whom are still with us. I meant all of that. What a foundation. What is that cloud doing now? What else but cheering on the next generation.