This reflection on the recent Awakenings gathering comes from Ashley Easter.
Ashley Easter is a 24-year-old writer, blogger, speaker, and abuse victim advocate. She promotes truth-seeking expeditions, advocates for gender equality, and educates the Church on abuse. She is the founder of The Courage Conference, an event that empowers survivors of abuse to continue to fight for their healing while also educating church leaders on prevention and proper response to abuse.
Awakenings: A Millennial’s Perspective
I stepped out of my Uber onto the street corner by Alfred Street Baptist Church on Thursday afternoon, the opening day of the Awakenings conference. My friend Amy and I signed in with the registration booth, then entered the main speaking space. As my eyes scanned the large sanctuary full of people, I quickly realized that I was one of the youngest in the room.
What kind of experience would I, a 24 year old millennial, have in this group of more seasoned speakers and attendees? As it turns out, I had a very good experience, and my age was not a barrier.
One of the first things I appreciated about Awakenings was the chosen theme of the event, The Mission Of The Spirit As The Life of The Church. Missio has made a point of affirming the power of the Holy Spirit in women to the same degree as men, and of giving women equal opportunities. This alone was a refreshing tenant of the event, but there also seemed to be the assumption that the Holy Spirit works and moves in young people in a way that is just as valid as the Spirit moving in a more seasoned believer..@missioalliance affirms the power of the Spirit in women to the same degree as men Click To Tweet
For instance, one of the breakout sessions that I attended was called Receiving Prophetic Guidance & Words Of Knowledge. This was an intriguing session, particularly as someone not brought up in the Charismatic Movement. Todd Hunter and Greg Brewer led the conversation and drew from their years of experience, but they allowed the full room to engage in an impromptu practice of mutual discernment following a time of prayer. After making space for silence and listening to God’s voice, the floor was opened to anyone who wished to share a word received from the Lord. It struck me that this opportunity was open to both men and women, both young and old. Each word from the Lord was taken equally as seriously, and was respected regardless of the age of the messenger.
As a millennial, I benefited greatly from the prominent examples of other female leaders and pastors who served as representation of what I might look like in a few years. Representation does matter for young people, and it affirmed my understanding of the freedom to grow into my leadership and ministry calling.
Millennials are sometimes called The Justice Generation and truly justice is our heartbeat. However, it was thrilling to hear a diversity of speakers and preachers from the generations before us also actively engaged and passionate about social justice. Charles Montgomery’s message, Stay Woke: The Holy Spirit, Justice, And Community Transformation, particularly caught my attention and assured me that this justice-centered mindset isn’t just a millennial thing. We have fathers and mothers of the faith who have been plowing this field and planting seeds of justice for years. The younger generation could benefit greatly by seeking out these established social justice leaders.We have fathers & mothers of the faith who've been plowing the field of justice for years. Click To Tweet
Perhaps my favorite part was the exchange between the younger perspectives and those who had more life experience. At the women’s breakfast there was a panel of powerhouse women who shared their stories and allowed for questions. I felt comfortable asking a vulnerable question about responding to resistance against female leaders. I was touched by the responses of the women on the panel, and also by a female pastor many years older than I am, who stood up from the audience and spoke words of wisdom, recited stories of personal pain, and inspired me to keep moving forward. Another woman who is farther along in the journey gave me both empathy and advice after the session had ended.
There was also good reception in the sessions in response to challenges from young people who see the world a bit differently. I raised my hand and asked a question at one point during the weekend, pushing against the traditional structure of the modern church and offered suggestions of alternative church models. Though I got the impression this caught the panelists off-guard, they were open to talking about new ways of furthering the church, and did not seem resistant to new ways of framing community worship. It made me feel useful as a younger person and affirmed that I had something to offer.
I felt truly valued and taken seriously at the event. I had the privilege of meeting some of my heros like Carolyn Custis James, and was introduced to new, dynamic individuals of whom I was not previously aware. I found Awakenings to be a full, rich experience, and I would recommend the event to other millennials my age.