This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

MVS to close almost half its units

Members of the Mennonite Voluntary Service unit in Chicago, from left: Linnea Slabaugh, Ashley Fehlberg, Carl Lehmann, Andrea Moya and Ben Hiebert. — MMN

Due to a declining number of participants, Mennonite Voluntary Service is closing about half of its units.

Members of the Mennonite Voluntary Service unit in Chicago, from left: Linnea Slabaugh, Ashley Fehlberg, Carl Lehmann, Andrea Moya and Ben Hiebert. — MMN
Members of the Mennonite Voluntary Service unit in Chicago, from left: Linnea Slabaugh, Ashley Fehlberg, Carl Lehmann, Andrea Moya and Ben Hiebert. — MMN

Starting in August, MVS will offer 11 community service options. To provide more meaningful service experiences in larger households, 10 units will close.

MVS, a program of Mennonite Mission Network, offers young adults an opportunity to engage deeply in a local church, integrate into a new neighborhood, live in an intentional community and gain meaningful work experience.

The U.S. economic recovery adversely affected MVS participation, program leaders believe. After the recession began to ease in 2009, many young adults who might have gone into MVS found paid employment instead.

This trend has occurred despite the fact that MVS participation often leads to an opportunity for employment. A recent survey showed that a majority of MVSers were offered a paid position at their service placement after their 2013-14 term.

While restructuring is not easy, it comes with benefits for all parts of the MVS communities, program leaders say.

Fewer MVS communities mean fuller units. Instead of a current average of three people per unit, MVS director Nathan Penner expects units to have four to eight people. This will allow participants to grow as leaders and permit extroverts to flourish. Introverts will still have the needed space to rejuvenate, Penner said.

Larger communities will also allow for more friendship opportunities and a better chance of finding people to grow with along their faith journey.

“A healthy household community is one place in addition to church and neighborhood communities where you can engage in conversation to fine-tune or reassess values and perspectives you hold,” said Del Hershberger, director of Christian Service for MMN.

“Community creates an atmosphere of discernment and accountability to God and each other.”

Fuller units will allow MVS to invest more heavily in its participants, because of increased financial stability. MVS plans to invest in antiracism and intercultural development trainings and retreats. Locally, units will be better equipped to handle these trainings if a larger MVS unit is involved, rather than one or two MVSers, said Neil Richer, assistant MVS director.

Restructuring “was a difficult decision with inevitable losses, both for the units that will close as well as for those of us in local units that are remaining,” said Alice Price, a leader for the Alamosa, Colo., unit.

Price represented local leaders in an eight-month discernment process and was a part of shaping her congregation’s involvement in the Alamosa unit.

“In the long run, I believe this restructure will not diminish the program but keep MVS and volunteers’ experiences of MVS a dynamic force within the larger church,” she said.

MVS will continue to evaluate and strengthen the service experiences for young adults. On a three-year rotation, each host congregation will work with MVS staff to evaluate their unit’s strengths and weaknesses.

“I’m optimistic that MVS has a bright future based on the amount of enthusiasm and commitment that each of the host congregations showed through this evaluation process,” Penner said.

MVS began in 1944 to provide young adults the opportunity for an alternative witness to warmaking. It went through many changes as cultural shifts followed, like the ending of the draft. MMN executive director Stanley W. Green expects the program “will continue to shape leaders in the Mennonite church for decades to come.”

Closing in July

The following MVS units will close after the service term ends in July. Units that closed voluntarily, before the discernment process started, are marked with an asterisk.

  • Americus, Ga.
  • Baltimore
  • Boulder, Colo.*
  • Evansville, Ind.
  • Fresno, Calif.
  • Harlingen, Texas*
  • Kykotsmovi, Ariz.*
  • Rochester, N.Y.
  • Sioux Falls, S.D.
  • St. Louis

The following MVS units will continue:

  • Alamosa, Colo.
  • Chicago
  • Elkhart, Ind.
  • Kansas City, Kan.
  • Madison, Wis.
  • Manhattan, N.Y.
  • San Antonio
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Washington, D.C.

While not a part of this restructuring process, the Hutchinson, Kan., MVS unit closed in 2013, citing changes to the national program and a decline in volunteers.

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