By Hannah Adair Bonner*
I finally have become one of those people who walk into fountains or stumble down stairs because they are texting and tweeting too much.
I never thought that would happen to me, but I have become part of a conversation going on around the world with young people who are absolutely fascinated by what is taking place here in Florida. Over and over we hear that technology is changing our lives, but never has it felt more real to me than this. For the first time, I understand in an experiential way how the Arab Spring took place.
When young people can dialogue about what they are watching — whether in their neighborhood or on their computer screen — it changes the conversation and transforms their level of engagement.
We are in a new era. Young people are not sitting at home, unaware that General Conference is even happening, possibly hearing a report about what took place a month or two later at their Annual Conference — if they happen to be one of the handful of young people there.
Instead, they are watching what we are doing; they are hearing what we are saying; they are engaging; they are forming opinions, and they are getting involved. Watching from the bleachers as visitors, sitting at the delegate tables, or watching the livestream of the proceedings at computer screens all over the world, they are engaged as they have never been before. And as a result, the conversation here at General Conference is changing as well.
On Tuesday, May 1, security of appointments, or what we often call guaranteed appointments, was removed as a right of ordained elders. This means that in two weeks, when I am hopefully ordained as an elder in full connection in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, I will become one of the first elders in decades ordained without expectation of a guaranteed appointment.
When that decision was passed on the consent calendar, many delegates were not even aware of what they had done. Young people watching from the stands and from their computer screens realized it, however, and the Twitter discussion went viral. Folks around the world were voicing their dismay and shock that there had been no discussion. Delegates on the floor became aware of this through the Twitter outcry.
As a result, a younger clergy person from the New England Conference, the Rev. We Hyun Chang, stepped to the microphone to ask if we could somehow bring the conversation up for discussion because of the profound justice issues involved. Another young clergy person from Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, stepped to the microphone and gave an eloquent description to the gathered body of what was happening in the Twitter-sphere and the outcry that was emerging globally. She was echoed by the Rev. Robin Hynicka, also from Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, who offered another speech for discussion.
In the end, the body voted once again not to take the time during plenary to discuss the decision that had been made previously in committee. After the vote, the plenary session took a break; and when it took them a while to return, those tweeting became hopeful that the delegates were taking a stand and refusing to return. When that turned out to not be the fact, however, one young man tweeted that he felt like General Conference was playing “red light, green light” with people’s emotions — and he was heard by people watching the discussion around the world.
That is just one example of how technology is transforming the way that the conversation is taking place, but I could share many others.
For example, Adam Hamilton’s presentation on the restructuring plan created a passionate response. His consistent references to “young people” as the reason for many of the proposals provoked disagreement from many young people around the room and the world. On Twitter, they asserted that they were a diverse people with diverse opinions and were troubled to hear established church leaders attaching the phrase “young people” to issues to promote them without regard to whether it authentically represented the diverse and passionate voices of young people.
Yet, I am convinced that all of that is changing. Voices previously unheard are now being heard. In the age of Twitter, Facebook and texting, most of us do not have a vote — but all of us can have a voice if there are people who are willing to listen.
If you want to become a part of the conversation, go to twitter.com, create a name and password; and then search for #gcyp (General Conference Young People) or #gc2012 (General Conference 2012). When participants tweet, they attach those hashtags to their tweets so all comments on a particular subject, event or idea will be grouped together and can we easily searched.
*Bonner is Northeast Jurisdiction staff person for Young People’s Ministry, Board of Global Ministries, and is a provisional elder in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference.