Who has ever been a young adult? Who has ever interacted with a young adult at church? Who has witnessed a young adult leaving church? Who has witnessed a young adult stepping into leadership?
These were the questions asked of the audience during the workshop entitled “Do you hear what I hear?” at Mennonite Church Canada’s Gathering 2022.
Ten young adults were chosen from across the regional churches to take part in the Young Leaders Experience (YLE) at Gathering 2022 from July 28 to Aug 1. Through their own activities, the Gathering’s main sessions and as delegates with voting power, the 10 young adults were fully immersed in the event.
Their participation was part of the ongoing effort within MC Canada to continue forming young leaders in the church. Other younger adults also attended Gathering 2022.
Larissa Pahl, the YLE coordinator, was excited to welcome the young leaders.
“Each region was offered a certain number of spots, representative of their size, and they worked out their own process for choosing participants,” she said. “We were looking for people who are engaged in their local congregations and interested in learning more about the wider church.”
Four hosts helped guide YLE participants throughout the weekend. Phil Campbell- Enns of MC Manitoba led an opening worship service for the group and prepared the scripture readers throughout the weekend. Christen Kong of MC Eastern Canada coordinated and ran the workshop by young adults. Liam Kachkar of MC Alberta planned trips in the city and took care of organizing weekend activities, including a campfire.
“They worked hard to bring everyone in and connect personally with each participant while helping them connect with the wider Gathering participants, who were largely much older,” Pahl said. “I planned the weekend and took care of logistics throughout the conference. It was definitely a team effort!”
On the afternoon of July 30, Kong, a member of Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church, moderated a panel discussion along with Nadya Langelotz of Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Rebecca Janzen of Edmonton First Mennonite Church, Riley Koop of Vineland (Ont.) United Mennonite Church, Liam Kachkar of Edmonton First Mennonite Church and Louisa Adria of Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary.
Through engaging dialogue surrounding young adults as they navigate their place in the church, the group also gave the audience practical ways to encourage and include young adults in their own congregations.
Koop, a recent Grade 12 graduate, spoke on how important the church is for youth, even when transitions take them away. “I think the church serves as a home base, a home beyond my family,” he said. “Whatever is changing around you, church is always familiar, and you can be comfortable in your home congregation.”
Janzen mentioned the resistance to change in a church setting and how the church is possibly going through an identity crisis. She mentioned topics such as new worship music and inclusion of people on the fringe. “The church is changing, and we are changing, and what is our goal in that?” she asked.
The panel was excited to pass along advice and practical ways that young people can engage in the church.
“Be intentional about taking their calls, when young people are involved in committees or councils; this leads to ownership,” said Koop. “They are equal members, not a separate group in the church. He added that, depending on interests, they may want to help with worship or take on leadership roles. “I’ve developed a lot of strong intergenerational connections in my youth, and that’s what kept me interested in the church.”
So how can the church trust young adults?
Adria told the story of how she was looking for a place to hold piano lessons for a client, and a person in her church offered her a key and said, “Here is a key and don’t give it back.”
“I think powered by the need to meet young adults where they are at means whatever they need help with,” she said. “If we are not afraid of it being done a little differently, when we ask them to lead something, I think trust and communication are key to making youth feel like they belong.”
What does renewal mean for young adults?
“At the worst, the church has been exclusive and demanding and confusing, and inflicted pain,” said Langelotz, “but I also think that the church is one of the most profound tools of hope. I really do, when we get it right.”
Lorena Diller Harder of MC Eastern Canada and a member of YLE, spoke of her experience at Gathering 2022: “It was a really positive experience, understanding how delegate sessions work, understanding the business side and the layers of how the regional churches work, and MC Canada as a whole. I’ve learned the value of worshipping together as a whole national body. I think coming here as a young leader allowed extra opportunities, including being led into a space rather than showing up without knowing what to do or where to go.”
She added: “I have been able to connect with other young people who I haven’t met before and their experiences in their churches, making sure that everyone had an opportunity to have a voice, as well as making it affordable and accessible.”
When asked what is next for MC Canada’s young leaders, Pahl answered: “We have plans to write a report based on feedback from the YLE group. We hope to stay connected, and there was a desire to help a future group of young leaders in a supportive way. Stay tuned!”
More Gathering 2022 coverage:
Gathering 2022: MC Canada invited to declare and embody the gospel
A focus on rest and renewal
In This Together aims to widen the circle of inclusion
Editorial: ‘We Declare’ and beyond