Jennifer Swier remembers waking up in her South Dakota home one night this past July and thinking she should go downstairs to her computer.
The Sioux Falls pastor was in between calls, reflecting on conversations she’d had with young adults. In the past three years, the 46-year-old had co-led retreats at Camp Rimrock, hiking with small groups of young adults in the Big Horn Mountains.
“As I listened to their needs, it was so illuminating,” Swier said. Young adults, she was learning, were going online to create what they longed for — a community where they could share their faith journey with others.
“Community was happening for them through social media, primarily on Facebook. Yet they also longed for small, intimate, face-to-face gatherings,” she said. “I was wondering if I could collaborate with them to somehow tie these two desires together.”
Swier began a search online to see if anything like this existed. She found nothing at first but then stumbled across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities website.
As she read about the church’s initiative, things began to click for her.
“I realized [that] through social media I was already providing pastoral care to these young adults,” she said. “We were already a church. Now I could give them permission to name it.”
Eventually the group came to be known as His Way.
Swier began calling young adults that she knew around the state and telling them about the 1001 website. They began to talk about her coordinating a new worshiping community made up of online young adult faith communities throughout the state.
His Way community is only a few months old, but already two groups have been set up in Sioux Falls and Brookings, with interest for a third taking shape in Lead.
So far, some 75 participants — three-quarters of which are young adults between the ages of 18-30) — are engaged in conversation on Facebook. They are working to design a web interface that will best facilitate the sharing of ministry ideas, fellowship, prayer and discussions of faith and theology. They still desire to meet face-to-face, of course, and have decided to gather the final Sunday of each month for service and worship. His Way will also host an annual spiritual retreat.
“For the next two years, we plan on reaching out to 22 towns where Presbyterian churches exist,” Swier said. “We want to love and serve the community and then participate in worship with our congregations. We want them to know that our young adults are alive and well, that they have strong desires for relationships and want to be part of the church.”
“The hardest part of being a young adult is trying to figure out faith,” said Hanna Larsen, a His Way participant at South Dakota State University in Brookings. “It’s difficult to go to church and say, ‘I’m not sure how I feel about this aspect of God.’ Someone might say, ‘Oh, you’re not a good Christian because you don’t believe that.’ Yet we long to connect not only to each other but to a larger, multigenerational faith community that has more experience than we do.”
A’Lece Boomsma, also a Brookings His Way member, added, “We don’t want the new to replace the old, but we’re not waiting to create Presbyterians later to carry the torch — we’re creating them now.”
Both Larsen and Boomsma have been deeply involved in the PC(USA) — Boomsma was a young adult advisory delegate for the 220th General Assembly (2012) in Pittsburgh, and Larsen worked for several summers as a counselor at Rimrock.
Many of the young adults involved in helping start His Way developed relationships with each other through Camp Rimrock. Others were deeply involved in the Presbyterian Youth Council in South Dakota. These existing connections help explain Swier’s symbiotic plans for developing the ministry.
“We’re going to our camp and conference center [Rimrock] this summer to share with our fifth and sixth graders what we are doing, to show them what they have to look forward to in ministry,” she said.