A New Generation of Leaders: The Oregon Fellowship

It’s no secret that younger generations are finding new and different ways of expressing their spirituality and faith in today’s world, that may look a little different from what many of us are used to. Many congregations and faith communities have noticed a lower level of denominational affiliation by people under the age of 40, but despite what it may seem at first glance, there is profound and deep hope for our future.

Between 2014-2017, a few Portland-based clergy, young leaders, and ministry partners like Leaven Community & Together Lab, noticed a pattern while developing relationships with their local communities: they kept meeting incredible young leaders of color and/or queer leaders who were beginning to discern their own vocations, but who didn’t feel like any of the existing discernment or leadership development spaces fit where they were at or what they needed. Hungry for spaces of spiritual healing and justice, these young leaders were not particularly denominationally affiliated and didn’t necessarily want to become pastors. So, where was a good space for them to engage in their leadership discernment? And, if there wasn’t one, what might one look like? These were the questions that these clergy-organizers and ministry partners began to ask themselves and the young leaders they were encountering. And, as they reflected on the early days of their own leadership discernment processes, they remembered the profound importance in their own lives of having been accompanied by people along their journey of discernment. So, they set out to create space to accompany a few young adult leaders who were committed to their discernment process but were on the margins of the church. And thus, the idea for the Oregon Fellowship was born. 

Since 2017, (in partnership with Leaven Community, Presbytery of Cascades, the Deaconess Community, Forum for Theological Exploration, Together Lab, the Oregon Synod, & the Christian Social Concern class at Warner Pacific University) the Oregon Fellowship seeks to create a new and much needed space for passionate young people to explore their own leadership journeys and spirituality without the pressure of fitting into any predetermined ideas of what that leadership “should” look like, and to be deeply accompanied in the process. These fellows are paid for a ten hour per week residency at a site which serves as their primary praxis space, as well as five hours per week of dedicated accompaniment time with people who share their experiences, identities, and are a little more seasoned in their leadership. Here are snippets from three of their stories:

Over the last few yearsand seven fellows into the programthe team is learning a lot of valuable lessons about emerging young leadership. Young leaders long for the support of more seasoned leaders who know what it’s like to navigate identity and leadership in the world, someone who can journey with them as they discover their own boundaries, agency, and unlearn systems that teach them to assimilate to what exists rather than to create anew what is needed. Living up to the pressure of expectations, while also exploring their own voice and call in the midst of unjust systems of oppression, stress of paying bills, completing their education, familial expectations and realities, etc., is daunting. And yet, they are spiritually hungry and energized; they long for spaces where they have the freedom to cultivate that. This generation will take us to new places in our lineage as a church with a deep conviction to not segment out the different parts of themselves in order to fit into existing spaces, but rather, to model leading whole and integrated lives everywhere.

Investing in these young leaders is a divine call to an act of repair in the world.

Will we answer that call?

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