Eastern Canada churches discuss youth engagement

March 28, 2024 | News | Volume 28 Issue 06
Madalene Arias |
Ruth Boehm is pastor of Faith Mennonite Church in Leamington, Ontario. Supplied photo.

On Thursday, March 21, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada hosted an online forum to discuss youth engagement in church. Leading up to the forum, two MC Eastern Canada pastors shared about youth work.      


Ruth Boehm is pastor at Faith Mennonite Church, the smallest among three Mennonite congregations in Leamington, Ontario. Sometimes, she says, it feels like they’re “out in the boondocks,” so connection to the broader church community is even more important for youth there.        


On an average Sunday, 30 to 45 people attend Faith Mennonite, and two to ten connect virtually.        


Despite being an older congregation, they do have a handful of junior and senior youth who participate in the life of the church. One assists with worship media on Sundays. Another youth volunteers with an after-school program every Wednesday evening. One just finished clearing out the church’s storage area.       


However, these youth hardly ever attend church at the same time. Boehm notes that a multitude of factors can impede regular attendance, including busy schedules, work-life balance, health and even changing views on “capital ‘C’ churches.”     


“We want our kids to feel that they’re part of a body of believers that’s bigger than their own congregation,” says Boehm.     


Four times each year, Faith Mennonite hosts joint junior youth events with North Leamington United Mennonite Church and Leamington United Mennonite Church. These events bring approximately 30 kids together.     


Some Mennonite Church USA youth gatherings are as close to Leamington as Mennonite Church Eastern Canada events, so Faith Mennonite has also sent youth to MC USA youth events on occasion.    


Boehm says that in addition to knowing and loving Jesus, it’s also important that youth are invited to serve.      


She describes her own youth as a time when the denomination offered more leadership training for young people during their formative years.     


Currently, such leadership development opportunities appear to be focused on Mennonite camps.     


She would like to see more opportunities for youth in other settings as well. In Bloomingdale, just outside Waterloo, Ontario, Bloomingdale Mennonite Church partners with three other local churches for youth events.     


“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for getting together,” says Bloomingdale pastor Zac Klassen.    


He recognizes that as youth age up, that kind of enthusiasm wanes. Currently, this small rural congregation has six junior youth and one senior youth.     


As a father of two teenagers, he also understands that parents lose influence over their kids’ choices over time. They cannot be forced to attend church, nor should they.     


He believes congregations can adjust their cultures so that youth feel church is a place where their voices count.     


Churches can become settings where youth feel empowered to raise concerns. With discernment, congregations can walk alongside youth on their journeys.     


But in order to foster this sense of belonging and community, churches need to learn more about the worlds of their young people. He asks about the extent to which the church is “actually talking to these young people, and getting a sense of what their concerns are and what they are passionate about.”     


Klassen took over as pastor more than two years ago. By this time, many of the church youths had grown and moved on from Bloomingdale due to various life circumstances.     


The church does often lose youth and young people, says Klassen, and it’s not an occurrence specific to any one church context.     


He feels congregations should be cognizant of how much their vision for youth stems from a desperate attempt to keep them. What if, instead, they envisioned youth who felt empowered to go out into the world and live in ways that demonstrate and embody the gospel?  

Ruth Boehm is pastor of Faith Mennonite Church in Leamington, Ontario. Supplied photo.

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