Finding belonging

Panel discussion explores how churches relate to young adults and vice versa

March 8, 2017 | Young Voices | Volume 21 Issue 6
Aaron Epp | Young Voices Editor

Finding a new church to belong to can be difficult. Just ask Katrina Woelk.

Woelk grew up at Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Winkler, Man., but now lives in Winnipeg, where she is studying social work at the University of Manitoba. After four years of commuting home for weekends, the 22-year-old is ready to deepen her roots in Winnipeg, and that includes finding a church home in the city.

“I tend to commit fairly easily to things, but for some reason with the church I’m having a really hard time with that,” Woelk said during a panel discussion at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) last month.

The discussion, entitled “Searching and finding: Stories of young adults and churches searching for and finding one another,” was held on Feb. 25 as part of A Transformative Moment, a one-day conference for pastors and lay leaders working with young adults.

Woelk described what it’s like to be a young adult looking for a new church home, as well as what she appreciates about how different churches reach out to young adults. Talking to young adults about how they want to be a part of the community, what the church can do for them and what gifts the young adults have that they can offer the church is important, she said.

At the same time, there are many variables that she and people in her situation are considering. It takes time to explore different churches, and it takes vulnerability, too. “I can’t just go to a church on a Sunday morning or Sunday evening or whatever, and expect that I’m going to belong right away,” Woelk said. “[And] yet, that’s what [I] kind of hope for.”

The panel also included three Winnipeg pastors who spoke about their experiences working with young adults.

Hilde Marsch, the young adult ministry director at the Meeting Place, a Mennonite Brethren congregation, said that things like keeping track of who’s attending events for young adults helps. That way, she and her colleagues can send people who were absent an email or give them a call to let them know they were missed.

Janessa Giesbrecht, the pastor responsible for youth and young adults at Fort Garry Mennonite Brethren Church, said her strategy includes developing strong leadership teams so that she is not the only person in charge, and trying to connect with each person who comes to an event. Focussing on relationships and having honest conversations are also key.

“My goal for ministry [is] that when people come to . . . our [young adult] group, we want them to be able to connect in community, develop meaningful relationships, and be stretched in their faith and in their relationship to God,” she said.

For Jamie Howison, an Anglican priest and founding pastor at St. Benedict’s Table, a key lesson has been that it’s not possible for a church to do everything for everyone, nor does a church have to.

Located in downtown Winnipeg, St. Benedict’s meets for worship on Sunday evenings and attracts many CMU students. They do not necessarily come to other church events, but that’s okay, he said, because they are plugged into community life at CMU.

“What they’re really looking for is the opportunity for worship and prayer together, and that’s Sunday [evenings],” he said.

Woelk concluded by saying that what young adults are looking for isn’t so different from what everyone is looking for. “We all long for belonging,” she said. “Finding belonging in community is for everyone, and that’s something we should all be thinking about in our churches.”

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