In just about every General Assembly Committee, effusive praise has been poured on the Young Adult Advisory Delegates, who often bring a perspective not otherwise brought by commissioners.
On Friday during the GA Live broadcast, it fell to Jeff Moles, who’s leading the YAAD program during the 225th General Assembly, to explain, as Moles told GA Live host Fred Tangeman, how YAADs “impact the denomination in a special way.”
Listen to their half-hour conversation here.
Together with four YAAD advisors, Moles, the director of Christian Education and Mission at First Presbyterian Church in Owensboro, Kentucky, hold nightly debriefing — both in person and online — with the approximately 60 YAADs elected to serve the current assembly.
“We worship, sing, pray, and read Scripture,” Moles said of the nightly sessions. “It’s a good opportunity to gather and build community. That’s an important role we have.”
YAADs have also been exploring the assembly theme, “From Lament to Hope,” sharing highs and lows for each day with one another as well as what they’ve experienced in their committees.
“There’s a lot to lament right now,” Moles said. “None of us can focus just on GA. Life goes on around us, and we have been impacted by the news. It’s an extra layer of heaviness.”
With more than 100 presbyteries not sending a YAAD to the current assembly, “I lament that not every presbytery could find someone to represent them,” Moles said. “I hope we can look at ways to engage.” Typically, there are 130-140 YAADs at General Assembly, Moles said.
For Moles and other leaders, the hope “is in meeting the wonderful young adults who have been here and done wonderful things in their committee,” Moles told Tangeman. “They are already strategizing how things are going to go in plenary,” where YAADs have voice but only an advisory vote. “It’s amazing to watch how much they want to build God’s church in the world.”
Unfortunately, a few commissioners consider YAADS to be the technology support for their committee.
“We remind them in training they are not tech support,” Moles said. “A bigger challenge for YAADs is learning the language we speak here [at General Assembly]. There’s a lot of insider talk, and we have to work not to get lost in that.”
Some YAADs reported their committees have been discussing how to incorporate new worshiping communities and immigrant communities “into the governance and fellowship of the church,” Moles said. “It’s a great reminder that we need to make our work more accessible. The way we follow Christ has to be a way that welcomes others and makes a difference in the world.”
Moles thanked members and staff of the church he serves “for giving me up for several weeks. It’s a blessing to have serving the larger church as part of my job description.”
He also discussed his previous work managing the winter shelter program for Room in the Inn in Nashville, Tennessee, where he worked for 13 years. “That experience dramatically changed my life,” Moles said. “I brought what I learned there to the rest of my life, including General Assembly.” He said he wonders how some of the matters being discussed in the assembly “would sound to people living on the streets. Would they think it’s important? I think that connects to our Matthew 25 vision. What would they have to say to our committees? To our assembly? The work I’ve had has been a great benefit to my work at the General Assembly.”
Noting Moles is also a musician, Tangeman asked his guest if working with YAADs feels more like working with a big band or “a punk rock spirit?”
“A churchy answer,” Moles said, “is it’s like being a church organist or pianist. You aren’t being highlighted. You are enabling the congregation to sing, and a congregation is all kinds of people. The job of the music leader is to help people use their voice.”
“That’s what my work at General Assembly is about: reading music, cueing people to come in, some improv, and getting people back on key if they waver a little bit,” Moles said.
Moles compared the four waves of committee meetings to a slow-moving train. “People keep hopping on and hopping off. I’ve been amazed at how well things have worked,” he said, giving special credit to staff in the Office of the General Assembly. “It’s been an amazing thing.”
Moles cut his teeth at General Assembly by getting elected as a YAAD after twice being turned down. “I tell people there’s hope,” he said. “Being a YAAD is one of the best leadership development opportunities our denomination offers. We invite people to come to the heart of the governance of our church. It’s a very real experience.”
During his own YAAD experience, “I remember hearing voices joined together in worship in a big arena” and later “hearing opinions that didn’t match mine but helped me grow into the person I’ve become.”
Moles has worked with YAADs since the 219th General Assembly, held in Minneapolis in 2010. “I wasn’t expecting it to be a long-term gig,” he said, “but it’s one of the best things the church can be doing.”
“Young people need to get involved,” Moles said, “and our church needs to recognize the gifts they bring.”