While it has been more than a decade since the Rev. Kathleen E. Kind participated in a Young Clergy Leadership Forum (YCLF), she will never forget the experience.
"I have a deep love and appreciation for that experience and my continued relationship with (the General Board of Church and Society)," said Kind, now superintendent of the Altoona District in the Susquehanna Conference in central Pennsylvania.
"Connecting and networking with other young clergy was a gift," said Kind. "I remember great presentations that spoke to a place within me that didn't see the light of day in the local church often enough. We spent time preparing and participating in advocacy – voice and presence can be powerful – in order to bring about change."
Before Kind's experience in the leadership forum, she had been serving as a pastor for about six years. "Both churches I had served had been in small towns that were somewhat homogenous. The folks in the churches were similar to one another in terms of experience, worldview, ethnicity, socio-economic standing, education and politics."
That atmosphere reminded Kind of her gym class in elementary school. "We would line up and space ourselves two arm-lengths away from one another, creating a safe space – our neighbors wouldn't penetrate it. Sometimes I feel like we are that way in the church. All we know is that which is an arm's length from us, and because of the space we have created for ourselves, we are safe and protected from anything or anyone outside of our immediate space.
"Participating in the YCLF connected me with other young people who wanted to drop their arms and find a way to be together, find our neighbors and penetrate one another's lives. As a follower of Jesus, I have a responsibility to not ignore the realities of those who are outside of my arms' length. I need to walk with my neighbors, hear their stories and lessen the gap between us."
In 2012, Kind was nominated to serve on Church and Society's board of directors.
"One of the areas where I've been able to spend some time has been around the Social Principles," she said. "I've explored how the Social Principles can give voice to so many aspects of who we are as a global church."
As a district superintendent, Kind is an advocate for young clergy from her district participating in the Young Clergy Leadership Forum.
"For the past two years, young clergy have come from my district," she said. "They've returned from their experiences excited, enthusiastic and with a new appreciation of the church and how they might lead in our churches. As much as I enjoyed my own experience participating in the young clergy gathering with GBCS, I think I appreciate sending new young pastors even more. I love that they are having a similar experience to mine. It is a life-giving experience that inspires them to serve the church with a new passion."
Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.
Originally published in Interpreter Magazine, March –April , 2016.