Young people make big impact in Las Vegas
On Feb. 16, more than 500 volunteers loaded onto buses and headed into the city. The volunteers, more than one-third 18-to-34-year-olds unconnected to a church, picked up trash from the streets and alleys of the Palos Verdes neighborhood and cleaned up parts of a nature trail.
The Rev. Daniel Gmez, associate pastor of University United Methodist Church in Las Vegas, has a longstanding relationship with the residents of the Palos Verdes neighborhood. Members of the church have been working for years with police and city officials to forge a relationship with this community.
Not make it so 'churchy'
In reaching out, Gmez said he knew they needed to take the church to the community but "we need to not make it so 'churchy.' Some of us were here picking up trash with the police officers in uniform, and the community is seeing this."
As time went on, Gmez said the community came to accept the church and be less wary of the police, and they began to work together to clean up the area and address crime in the neighborhood.
"We don't want to be here a year from now, only as their guests," he said. "We don't want to be the ones initiating, bringing all the resources. We want to teach them how to resource themselves."
Among the cleanup crew was Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata of the Phoenix Episcopal Area. Hoshibata sees a clear connection between faith and service.
"It really is a way of saying to people, 'You don't have to come to our churches, but it's good that you know that we care about you, we want to be involved with you, we are a part of this community and we work together,'" he said. "That's the positive message we want to give to all the folks, not just the ones who come into the four walls of the church."
United Methodist Communications through Rethink Church has been present and a sponsor of Relevance X gatherings for the past two years.
(From left) Becca Brazell, Bekah Rock, Amy Pazan-Ellensburg and Katharine Smith pick up metal, broken glass and other debris during volunteer cleanup with Impact 2013 in Las Vegas.
'Grow with them in faith'
"Rethink Church continues to be a primary sponsor of Relevance X because we have seen how worship, conversations about faith and service in the world can energize young adults, who continue to tell us they are passionate about active faith," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications. "They are looking for a church that will communicate with them across generational gaps through a variety of channels; a church that will welcome their questions and grow with them in faith."
Patrick Brown, a Relevance X participant from Las Vegas, said he appreciates an alternative to live out his faith. Though he attends church with his mother when he can, "I couldn't come to some of the services because I work, but I like to come help out as much as possible. It's helpful to clean up the community."
Yvonne Agduyeng, a Relevance X participant from Seattle, said she liked the experience so much at last year's event that she decided to come back.
"It's good to talk about doing something for your community, but to actually do it at a conference is why I came back. I know I can do this at home, but going somewhere else to where I can - this feeds my soul," she said.
"It's a reminder of the way we United Methodists care not just for the four walls of our church but breaking out into the community, touching lives, transforming neighborhoods and doing it in the name of Christ," said Hoshibata. "It's an honor to be part of that kind of movement."
*Butler is editor of young adult content for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.