At the Mennonite Church USA convention in 2015, high school student Leah Wenger questioned the role of youth after noting how separated the youth convention was from the delegate sessions.
“My youth group has always been very interested in the things the delegates have been talking about,” Wenger said, adding she was there with her youth group from Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Va.
“Particularly we were interested in the Membership Guidelines resolution. It was a pretty big decision to not change that. My church has always been very open and accepting of gays and lesbians. It came as kind of a shocker to our youth group.”
Now a first-year student at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg studying psychology and music, Wenger is part of the planning committee for an initiative called Step Up, which will debut at the 2017 MC USA convention in Orlando, Fla.
The goal is to have about 80 youth join the discussions around delegate tables, although they will not be delegates.
According to a letter from committee chair Brook Musselman, conference coordinator for Atlantic Coast Conference, to leaders of MC USA conferences and constituency groups, the program’s goal is “to prepare and launch young people into future involvement as denominational delegates and church leaders who are involved with the broader church.”
Each conference is asked to nominate three young people (rising high school sophomores or older) who are planning to attend convention: one male, one female and one person from a racial-ethnic group. Each constituency group is asked to nominate two young people.
Wenger hopes people interested in being Step Up representatives will take the initiative to approach their church leaders about the opportunity.
“I want people to be interested,” she said. “I know that if this was an opportunity during the time that I was in high school, I know I would have jumped right on it.”
Musselman hopes each conference and constituency group sends representatives.
“I think many youth want to be involved and want to be heard and part of the process,” he said. “That’s what I heard from Leah’s message. There are certain youth who have a desire for greater involvement and to be part of the conversations happening in the denomination, not just kept on the sidelines until they’re invited in when they’re of age.”
The committee intentionally did not set an upper age limit on who may participate, knowing that several people, like Wenger, who were high school age in 2015 will be considered young adults by July 2017. While the emphasis will be on the high school age group, the committee expects college-age participants as well.
“I know that many people are worried about the fact that young people are leaving the church,” Wenger said. “I hope that this is a step to helping younger people feel included and feel like they have a place in the Mennonite church.”