Young Clergy Meet Hymn Writer Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette and Author Robert P. Jones

Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, a pastor and hymn writer was a featured speaker at the Summer Young Clergy Leadership Forum hosted by General Board of Church and Society July 18-20.  Rev. Gillette was recently interviewed on NPR after writing a hymn expressing grief for the shooting deaths of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub popular with the LGPTQI community. The hymn was widely circulated and used at many prayer services following the attack.  Rev. Gillette and her husband, the Rev. Bruce Gillette, serve as co-pastors of the Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware.

Twenty-one young clergy from thirteen conferences attended this summer’s Young Clergy Leadership Forum.  Conferences represented include: North Carolina, Western North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama West Florida, Eastern Pennsylvania, North Georgia, Susquehanna, Greater New Jersey, Illinois Great Rivers, Desert Southwest, and Upper New York.  The Rev. Dr. Hilary Paul, an elder in the Liberia Conference, traveled the furthest.

Young clergy leaders meet clergy and public servants dedicated to social action

Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is the author of over 300 hymns that bring fresh insights to biblical stories and facilitate faithful responses to contemporary concerns.  Immediately following the May 2015 shootings at a church in Charleston, SC, Rev. Gillette composed a hymn titled “They Met to Read the Bible” that ministered to congregations around the world and became the focus a feature article in The New Yorker magazine.

The Rev. Bruce Gillette, Carolyn Gillette’s husband, is a committed and leading voice in creation care ministry.  His work resulted in the Gillette’s congregation, being the first church to go solar in the state of Delaware. With 180 solar panels on their church’s roof they generate much of church's power needs for activities throughout the week. Bruce Gillette helped to found and now serves as the Vice-President of the Delaware Interfaith Power & Light.  

Young Clergy were also able to visit with Mike McCurry, former press secretary for President Bill Clinton, who is now a professor at Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC and Robert P. Jones, author of a new book, “The End of White Christian America,” which addresses the changing faith and ethnic demographics that are impacting the role of faith in public life today. Jones, a graduate of Emory University, is the founding CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.

Young leaders encouraged to be in conversation about issues that matter

Young clergy enjoyed meeting other young clergy from across the United States and from Africa. They were asked to make a list of three social concerns which they believed were most critical at this moment in their ministries. Two issues ranked at the top:  racism and ethnic strife ranked first with 15 mentions followed by poverty/hunger/inequality which was cited by 18 of 22 young clergy. Others concerns mentioned included: violence, guns, addictions, and LGBTQ equality. Young clergy also listed “hopelessness, finding community, complacency, over-consumption, privilege, classism and “Monday through Saturday theology.”

In addition to the special guest speakers, the young clergy were able to spend time with General Secretary, The Rev. Dr. Susan T. Henry-Crowe, and several other Church and Society staff including Beth Reilly, GBCS’s National Gun Violence Organizer and Pauline Muchina who directs the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project promoting advocacy for child and maternal health.

Other agency presentations included a session focused on racism led by Rev. Michelle Ledder of the General Commission on Religion and Race and a focus on Christian missions lead by Rev. Dr. Mande Muyombo, the Executive Director of Global Mission Connections for Global Ministries of the UMC.

Church and Society's dedication to supporting young leaders

According to Neal Christie, Assistant General Secretary, Education and Leadership Formation, “We always look forward to the Young Clergy coming to GBCS. They come with eager, open minds ready to learn but also ready to share.  Many have a passion for social engagement, they believe faith should make a difference in life, they want to see community and world transformation. That kind of energy is contagious. We love it.” 

This is the twelfth Young Clergy Leadership Forum hosted by Church and Society. Over 600 participated since this program’s inception in 2002.  Another Young Clergy Forum is planned for January and will feature Shane Claiborne as one of the guest presenter.  Each conference is encouraged to send two clergy but with a maximum of 50 participants.  You can find more information and register here.

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