"... Why not ask every presbytery to elect one commissioner under the age of 27? Such a commissioner would have been nominated and elected by his/her own congregation and entrusted with leadership in that particular church. He would have been examined by the Session and been ordained into office. She would have voted on church school curriculum, on receiving members, and sorting through the costs of building maintenance. After serving at the GA, this young adult commissioner would give an account to that same local body of leaders. ..."The Book of Order (G-14.0221) provides that: "... Every congregation shall elect men and women from among its active members, giving fair representation to persons of all ages and of all racial ethnic backgrounds and to persons with disabilities who are members of that congregation, to the office of elder and to the office of deacon (if used in the congregation). ..."
Many congregations, including the one where I worship, elect a high school student for a one year term on Session. This allows them an opportunity to be a part of church leadership without burdening them with a three-year commitment. The idea of ordaining youth and young adults has been around for some time. I was ordained an elder at the age of 21 in the United Presbyterian Church in the USA, and there was at least one congregation that had ordained a high school student in my presbytery. My son, who is a sophomore in high school, began a one year term on Session in early January, so he too is getting a taste of Church leadership.
One of my minor peeves is the way people tend to label them as "youth elders". There is no such office in the PC(USA). These young adults when elected, ordained, and installed to active service on a Session are elders on the same level as any who serve in a like capacity. And, like any other elder, they are elders for life.
There is not complete agreement as to whether this is a good idea or not. One substantive difficulty some have is whether a young person is ready to take on the role of spiritual leader. I have to admit that when I was ordained an elder at age 21, I was not ready to be a spiritual leader. But I had to come to grips with the concept and thus I began a process of self-examination, prayer, study, and service. Now I am of an age where I am an "elder" in the chronological sense, I have presbyopia. and my hair and beard are grey -- I am truly a presbyter. And I still know that even though I am better equipped spiritually than I was 35 years ago, I still am striving to be worthy of the calling of elder. My son is now finding his own way, and I wish him the best.
Jack Haberer's suggestion for each presbytery to send an elder under 27 to General Assembly seems to me to be a solution looking for a problem. There is currently no bar to younger elders serving as GA commissioners, and while I have no idea how many such there are, I suspect there are some commissioners each year who would also qualify as a Youth Advisory Delegate.
I can understand the issues with YADs, but they do have voice and vote in the committees, and often hold the balance of power when the issues are closely divided. Many observers have felt that as a group they are vulnerable to manipulation by special interest groups. There is no question that they are a heavily-lobbied group at General Assembly. But I am not convinced that eliminating the YADs and requiring that each presbytery send one commissioner from that age group is a viable solution. I assume that this would entail significantly increasing the number of commissioners -- otherwise smaller presbyteries would be locked into sending one minister and one youth to represent the presbytery.
One factor that complicates things was our move to biennial General Assemblies. While it was, in general, a good idea, it made it even less likely that any given Presbyterian elder would have the opportunity to serve as a GA commissioner. Short of doubling the number of commissioners, it is hard to see that situation improving. Increasing the number of commissioners could also have the effect of erasing the savings resulting from the move to biennial assemblies.
I see no reason why a younger elder should not serve as a commissioner to General Assembly, but making it a mandate would create problems of its own.
For a thought-provoking essay on how the PC(USA) might go about rebuilding itself, including dealing with the issue of youth representation, check out Beau Weston's Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment, which is made available through the Office of Theology and Worship of the PC(USA). Beau and I see things in a similar way, though I differ with him in some details of youth involvement.