Opportunity for faith communities

This is the second of two articles addressing the pressures affecting young adults. They are in trouble, according to an 18-year veteran of campus ministry, the Rev. Dr. Beth Cooper. She implores faith communities to see the bigger picture of what is happening to young adults. She asserts that faith community actions and a coordinated response of the nation to the pressures faced by young adults are now imperative.

This is an opportunity for faith communities to wake up and learn about young adults! Faith communities can step up to help. When we understand our campus ministries and young-adult ministries alongside the needs of young adults, it makes little sense to cut back and more sense to expand this vital mission outreach.

The Rev. Beth Cooper

Cooper

Do we really understand young adults? Do we understand the sources of their pain and anger? Most young adults need the decade of their 20s to mature.

Half of all college students are not able to find employment in their field when they graduate. If they do, they are likely to have seven different jobs over their career and not be covered by job-related health insurance or pension benefits.

Can’t cope

Our young people are having a hard time finding ways of coping. Coping helps with anxiety, stress, relationship building and happiness. When one is at a loss to be able to cope, all other things seem dismal.

Young adults may be … impoverished when it comes to dealing with conflict or building relationships based on common value systems.

Young adults may be sexually experienced, but impoverished when it comes to dealing with conflict or building relationships based on common value systems.

Young adults today know little about cooking and good nutrition. Due to obesity and stress, most will not live as long as their parents.

Young adults may tend to associate religion with attending boring church services, but many are hungry for spiritual development and eager for opportunities to participate in community service. They may not be asking questions about religious dogmas or rituals and what it means to orient their life in relationship to God, but many are asking about the meaning of war, how to put together part-time jobs to make meaningful work, and how to pay off their debts.

How we can help

Because there are few young people in church, congregation leaders forget to think about them, their concerns and needs. Yet when our culture gets into trouble and people can’t find recourse, they want to turn to religious places for help.

Prayers in worship can be oriented to address the concerns, pains, fears, sorrows and needs of young people inundated with experiences of loss. Young adult life milestones can be celebrated. Young adult leaders can be welcomed even when they initiate changes.

Congregations with few financial resources can learn how to use inexpensive forms of digital communication. They can build relationships by doing things together with young adults and by enabling young adults to meet other like-minded young adults.

It is essential for members of faith communities to build relationships with young people. This will involve moving beyond ordinary cultural habits and economic comfort zones to be present in new ways in new places.

Young adults may be more comfortable in a coffee shop than a sanctuary. They may be speaking different languages and living or working with people who are strangers to a congregation.

Pressure, shame and judgment put up barriers to mentoring and relationships. For young adults, relationships are important. God works through relationships.

An opportunity

Faith communities have an opportunity to build relational communities where young people can feel that they belong and where they can participate in rituals that shape, guide and provide routine and discipline for one’s life. It is routine that helps a young adult know where to go when something traumatic happens.

Faith communities can aid and support young adults who are questioning their identity. Who am I? Why am I here? What good can I do for the community and the world?

It takes a community of relationships to raise a young adult.

5 things you can do

There are at least five things that faith communities can do for congregational living for those experiencing mental health issues:

  1. Work through sacred texts that present mental health as culturally taboo. Lift up mental health issues and help those realize that mental health is like any other health issue.
  2. Build communities with your young adults. Even if they are away, stay connected. Drop notes, gift cards, and cards to remind them of their importance to you and your care for them.
  3. Engage in worship experiences that involve awareness, healing, or prayers for those that have mental health struggles. Remind each other that we all are a part of the faith community.
  4. Bring in experts in the field and have discussions about mental health concerns. The more people know, the more helpful they can be.
  5. Young people need to know that no matter what they are loved. All people need to know and be given opportunity to be in community.

Editor's note: The Rev. Dr. Beth Cooper is Executive Director and Campus Minister of the Wesley Foundation serving San Diego State University in California. She is author of “Trauma on Campus,” published in To Transform the World: Vital United Methodist Campus Ministries (Nashville, Tenn: General Board of Higher Education & Ministry of The United Methodist Church, 2009). She has done national consultant work in campus ministry, and continues to do presentations related to young adult concerns.

Cooper’s first article is available at “Young adult shootings,” (Faith in Action, Aug. 27).

To learn how to become a church that is open, caring and informed about mental illness, become a “<a data-cke-saved-href="http://main.umc-gbcs.org/content/articles/creatingcaringcongbrochure.pdf” target=" href="http://main.umc-gbcs.org/content/articles/creatingcaringcongbrochure.pdf” target=" _blank"="">Caring Community Congregation.” The program has been developed by Mental Health Ministries, which is led by a United Methodist clergywoman, the Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder. After reading the brochure, if your congregation would like to pursue this model, contact the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of Alcohol, Other Addictions & Health Care at the General Board of Church & Society, for more information.

Letter to the Editor