How shall MC USA engage with youth?

Leaders see a need to bring youth together more often for faith formation activities

Ruth Yoder Wenger, Ken Sims and Ben Woodward-Breckbill. — Mennonite Church USA Ruth Yoder Wenger, Ken Sims and Ben Woodward-Breckbill. — Mennonite Church USA

The Constituency Leaders Council of Mennonite Church USA brainstormed strategies for strengthening youth engagement during a Zoom meeting Oct. 27.

Forty-six leaders attended the four-hour meeting to worship, engage with Executive Board staff and discuss the challenges and opportunities of engaging young people. Moderator-elect Marty Lehman presided over the meeting, which was attended by leaders of area conferences, racial-­ethnic groups, constituency groups and Executive Board staff.

Leaders acknowledged the many challenges impacting youth engagement. They responded to questions in breakout groups and reported their findings to the larger gathering.

“One barrier is simply the low numbers of youth that are part of our congregations and our conferences,” said Doug Luginbill, conference minister for Central District Conference.

Ruth Yoder Wenger, associate conference minister for New York City for Atlantic Coast Conference, said: “Children’s time and schedules have changed. Saturday and Sunday are no longer protected. . . . Sports activities and a whole variety of things keep children out of church with their families. Worship has just become one of many options for Sunday morning.”

Steve Kriss, executive minister for Mosaic Mennonite Conference, said: “We noticed a decrease in staff time in congregations and across conferences for youth-specific ministry roles. There seems to be waning money for paying staff people . . . and we still notice lots of questions about passing faith on.”

Other challenges the groups named were less volunteer involvement, lack of clarity around faith formation and pervasive violence affecting youth.

The leaders shared ways that conferences and constituency groups were working to engage youth. These included internship programs, intergenerational service projects, small group and family faith formation activities and including youth in annual meetings and committees.

CLC representatives discussed ways that MC USA could facilitate Anabaptist faith formation in youth. Many of the suggestions focused on building stronger relationships.

“Camps continue to be an important place of faith formation throughout our various conferences,” Luginbill said. “Maintaining a strong relationship between camps and conferences can provide good synergy to continue the faith formation process.”

Luginbill’s group also suggested more coordination between conferences and MC USA-affiliated schools and colleges.

Ken Sims, moderator of Ohio Mennonite Conference, said his group talked about bringing youth together more frequently.

“Is there something that can be done at the denominational level to help conferences do collaborative faith formation activities?” he asked. His breakout group suggested a scholarship or financial assistance if two or more conferences worked together to plan a youth gathering in the year between MC USA conventions.

Ben Woodward-Breckbill, associate pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan., and a representative for Western District Conference, reported that his group said, “One important thing MC USA can do is to bring youth together to talk about peace and build a peace witness.”

Several groups mentioned the success of MC USA’s Youth and Young Adult Climate Summit in Kansas City on July 8 that brought young people together to understand how Anabaptist faith values can inform their response to climate change.

“How do we build on that excitement and add other topics, such as gun violence or other issues that youth are interested in and want to speak to?” asked Iris de León-Hartshorn, MC USA associate executive director.

There were requests for resources to equip youth and their leaders, including opportunities to convene youth leaders, pastoral training around sexual orientation and online discussions to highlight creative engagement strategies.

Randy Spaulding, pastor of Boulder Mennonite Church in Colorado and the representative for the Queer Constituency Council, led the CLC in worship, concluding with Voices Together No. 832, “The Lord Lift You Up,” in honor of songwriter and denominational leader Patty Shelly, who died Sept. 4 in Newton, Kan.

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