The 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) may not get started until today, but more than 140 Young Adult Advisory Delegates met Friday for a day of worship, reflection, inspiration, training and community building.

Coming from every presbytery in the PC(USA), YAADs prepared for their work in Portland over the next week, during which they have full voice and vote during committee deliberations, and voice during plenary sessions.

YAADs, who must be between 17 and 23 when the assembly convenes, “bring a unique perspective to the process and realize they have a lot of listening to do,” advisor Rebecca Chancellor said. “They want to learn and, in those moments when it feels right, to share their perspective and voice. They also realize they have a stake in the future in a way that a lot of the current commissioners don’t.”

YAADs began the day with worship, followed by a presentation by current Moderator Heath Radaand Vice-Moderator Larissa Kwong Abazia. Emphasizing the importance of YAADs’ presence at the General Assembly, Rada said, “You are the present and the future of the church.”

Divided into four “Home Groups” of approximately 40 delegates sorted by committee assignments, YAADs will meet regularly during the assembly to reflect on their experience. Guided by a group covenant as a way to “agree, disagree, respect, engage in open dialog and set the stage,” elected co-moderators of each Home Group will lead debriefing discussions at these scheduled meetings.

“Nearly every night the Home Groups will gather for open and honest dialog, to share frustrations, ask questions, and debrief the day,” Chancellor said. “They’ll have an opportunity to say where they saw God and where they didn’t see God was revealed in the General Assembly.”

Madeleine Olson, 18, from from Presbytery of Southern New England, was recommended as a YAAD by her pastor. She’s been involved in youth group and served on her church’s pastoral nominating committee, and will serve on The Way Forward Committee. Olson said she looks forward to learning more about how the assembly works as a whole along with learning from the insights of other delegates.

“I value peoples’ opinions that are different from mine,” she said. “Learning to agree to disagree is part of this process.

“I hope people aren’t too narrow-minded to listen and learn,” she said. “Hopefully they will follow what the Spirit is doing and not follow just what their presbytery wants them to do. That’s part of the experience of being the Body of Christ.”

Alyssa White, 19, of Pittsburgh Presbytery, also serves on The Way Forward Committee. “We’re not here for ourselves or for our own churches individually, but for the whole church,” she said. “We’re one church when we come here so coming together to working things out is what needs to be done.”

“You are very important,” said YAAD advisor Keisla Lanzot in her “What is a YAAD” presentation. “The Moderator and commissioners expect you to represent the youth perspective with full voice and vote in committees. Be prepared to listen and learn, but also to respectfully express your opinion – not that of your presbytery, synod or church, but your opinion. You are part of a bigger community.”

Known as Youth Advisory Delegates prior to 2010, YAADs are joined by other advisory delegates: TSADs – theological student advisory delegates, EADs – ecumenical advisory delegates and MADs – missionary advisory delegates.