Lovett Weems has wisely said that the United Methodist Church must reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people if we are to strengthen our witness to the world in the years to come. I was privileged to be part of a group the last weekend of June that experienced this very thing.
It was the first Candidacy Summit for the Great Plains Annual Conference. 38 candidates for ministry gathered in Lincoln to learn about and discuss their call. It was larger than any group of ministerial candidates that I've ever been around. That's one more than the number of retirements we had this year. I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing it's been several years since we've had more people in Kansas and Nebraska beginning the candidacy process than we have pastors retiring.
The group was not uniformly young (that's a moving target to me as I get older!), but I would estimate that at least half were 1st-ish career, or at least in their 20's-30's. Assuming that the generally accepted rule that a pastor will best reach people who are 10-15 years younger and older than the pastor is correct this bodes well for our ability to reach younger populations.
Finally, our candidates were diverse. At least three different nationalities were represented among the group. In every case, these candidates were well equipped to communicate both with newer immigrants from their countries of origin as well as with their peers at the summit. There was also wide theological diversity. United Methodism in Kansas and Nebraska will not be simply "liberal" or "conservative" it will be a mix of theology held together by the common center of a commitment to evangelism and social justice.
Our UM population continues to decline. It will for some time. But the quality and kind of new candidates for ministry that we have is a leading indicator of our future. I am convinced that our future is bright!