This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Step Up is primed to go a step further

Lorren Oesch recalls a moment at the 2017 Mennonite Church USA delegate assembly in Orlando, Fla., when her table group encouraged her to go onstage and share her perspective at the microphone.


She particularly remembers encouragement from Cyneatha Millsaps, who sat at her table and currently serves as executive director of Mennonite Women USA.

“Cyneatha told me, ‘Your voice is really important,’ ” Oesch said. “It was intimidating because I wasn’t sure if I’d be heard correctly or if what I was saying was valid, but people thanked me for going up there.”

Oesch attended the 2017 delegate assembly during the first year of Step Up, a program for youth to participate in the adult delegate meetings during convention. At the time, she was studying peacebuilding and development at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. She recognized that techniques she learned in her classes for facilitating difficult conversations were being used in the delegate assembly.

Step Up has specific importance for this year’s convention in Kansas City, Mo., July 2-6, because delegates will vote on a bylaw change that will allow youth participants to serve as official voting delegates.

Congregations may each nominate one youth in addition to their regular delegate amount, and area conferences and racial-ethnic groups may each nominate two.

Shana Peachey Boshart, MC USA denominational minister for faith formation, said the bylaw proposal grew out of feedback from Step Up participants.

“Being able to vote will bring an extra amount of recognition for the importance of young people in the church,” Oesch said.

To prepare youth representatives, Step Up coordinators orient participants ahead of time on how the denomination functions and invite participants to share responses following their delegate experiences.

“If we can get youth interested in the church and have them feel that they have a place and purpose there, it seems more likely they will have a place in the church’s future,” said Brook Musselman, who coordinates the Step Up program and serves as conference coordinator for Atlantic Coast Conference.

Oesch, who now works as a resident director at Hesston (Kan.) College, is returning as part of this year’s Step Up planning team as a result of her Step Up experience.


Luke Wheeler, a 2017 Step Up participant who attends Lockport Mennonite Church in Stryker, Ohio, and participates in the youth group at Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio, said Step Up helped him to see that youth have a place in MC USA.

“I was a little bit surprised at first at how willing people were to consider what I was saying and take it at face value as if I was like any other adult or person there,” he said.

Wheeler will graduate from high school this year and plans to attend convention with his youth group. He hopes to meet students at convention who attend EMU, where he will begin studying in the fall.

“Step Up . . . inspired me to be motivated and active in my personal church, and it helped in my decision process for going to EMU,” he said.

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