I had the privilege of spending the first week of October on a learning tour in the United Kingdom with eight young adult leaders from Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. The learning tour’s purpose was to provide an opportunity for these young adults to become better acquainted with the ministry of Urban Expression U.K., a group of Anabaptist church planters who are living in and establishing faith communities in socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Each of the eight young-adult leaders will most certainly bring their own perspectives and wisdom to questions related to the value of the learning tour. It would be presumptuous of me to speak on their behalf. However, what I am able to do is offer my own reflections as tour leader of this experimental pilot initiative, made possible in part by MC Eastern Canada’s Legacy Initiative Fund, along with support from participants and their home congregations.
Not all of the i’s need to be dotted and t’s crossed before doing something new. Planning conversations with Urban Expression U.K. staff assured us that the risk was well worth taking, yet we didn’t know quite what to expect. It’s interesting to note that, in retrospect, participants would have preferred not to have received an itinerary in advance, but to simply have let themselves be drawn into the experiences.
Unexpected interruptions can provide the most formative moments. We planned to take a city walking tour the day we arrived in London. As we prepared to leave our college dorm for the city tour, a church that met at the college asked if they might pray for and with us. They chose to let our group interrupt their worship, an interruption that resulted in us missing the city tour, yet receiving the gift and blessing of prayer together.
At times, we, as leaders, need to get out of the way and just marvel and pray. We spent many hours walking and travelling by train and underground. Informal conversations among participants and fellow travellers popped up regularly. I came to appreciate that my engagement in these conversations was neither helpful nor necessary. My role was to simply delight in these often unlikely exchanges, trusting in the growth and learning that was most surely happening.
Young adult leaders can and will lead, if we let them. Initially, I felt obligated to thank the Urban Expression U.K. staff at the conclusion of a tour or table conversation. I quickly discovered that this wasn’t necessary, as participants offered their own thanks, and, in some cases, very astute and sincere prayers for a particular ministry.
No doubt, there will be additional reflections to add to the list as the learning tour experience integrates more fully into my ministry. What I’ve become even more convinced of as a result of this experience, is that risk, experimentation and ongoing learning are the only ways forward for us as a church.
Jeff Steckley is Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s congregational ministries minister.
—Posted Nov. 6, 2014