First-daughter tease creates buzz, draws attention to Young Adult Volunteer program

June 20, 2016

Richard Williams, coordinator of the YAV program, and YAV staff associate Lydia Kim address the assembly.

Richard Williams, coordinator of the YAV program, and YAV staff associate Lydia Kim address the assembly. —Michael Whitman

Portland

Richard Williams, coordinator of the Young Adult Volunteer program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), had participants in the denomination’s 222nd General Assembly (2016) on the edge of their seats Sunday.

Presidential daughter Malia Obama, 17, is taking a year off between high school and college, he said, reminding the commissioners that that the YAV  program is designed for young adults wanting to take a “gap year” for service. YAV leaders have “reached out” to her, he teased.

As a bit of a buzz started rising in the convention hall, Richards acknowledged that he hadn’t actually heard from Malia, where upon the buzzing changed to chuckling.

Richards wasn’t teasing moments later when he went on to note that the program has grown to involve more than 1,600 young adults, about one-third of whom have gone into ordained ministry, while many of the rest are serving with non-profits and ministering in other ways.

“It really is a program that leaves its mark on participants,” he said.

Richards and YAV staff associate Lydia Kim encouraged congregations to support the program by encouraging more people to serve, praying for volunteers, and providing financial support for one or more volunteers.

The Sunday afternoon plenary session also included a report from the Task Force for Korean-Speaking Congregations. Luke Choi, the task force moderator, said the group was formed two years ago “out of concern that too many Korean-speaking congregations were marginalized” within the denomination.

“What we discovered,” he said, “is that there is indeed some disconnect between Korean-speaking congregations and the larger church” – some caused by theological differences, but much of it due to “needless miscommunications and misunderstandings.”

In spite of the misunderstandings, Choi said, these congregations are happy to be part of the denomination and “really do wear their PC(USA) identity very proudly.”

Choi encouraged listeners to pray for Korean-speaking Presbyterians and to find ways to empower them, adding, “We really are less without their contributions.”

The task force’s report will be considered by the General Assembly Committee on Mid Councils.

The session also included a report on the 2017-18 Mission Work Plan of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. PMA Interim Executive Director Tony De La Rosa described it as a “two-year bridge plan” that sets mission priorities and tries to address the areas of greatest need.

De La Rosa said the theological foundation of the new plan is based on the Six Great Ends of the Church, but the denomination has changed, and the PMA “cannot be all things for all people.” With limited funds, he said, “our role is both focused and limited.”

The plan has three “directional goals”: evangelism and discipleship; servant leader formation; and justice and reconciliation. All agency programs are required to align with all three goals.

“We’re doing what we can uniquely do with efficiency and effectiveness,” De La Rosa said, noting that the proposed PMA budget has declined by 15 percent, and “for the first time in recent memory, no unrestricted reserve funds are being used to balance the budget.”

PMA’s 2017-18 Mission Work Plan will be considered by the General Assembly Committee on Mission Coordination and Budgets.

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