by Marlene Frankenfield, Salford, firstname.lastname@example.org
As youth leaders, pastors, and youth gathered with Eastern District and Franconia Conference leaders in the fellowship hall at Towamencin Mennonite Church on June 6, there was a buzz of energy in the air. Conference leadership invited these groups to be a part of creating a vision for youth ministry and to help bring that vision closer to the core of the vision and mission of both conferences.
I was impressed at the passion and engagement of the mix of people at each table. It was great to hear the table groups invite the youth give the verbal report back to the whole gathering. There was a sense of hope as the young voices spoke.
Zion Mennonite’s Youth Pastor, Scott Benner, and I were asked to give the history of youth ministry in Franconia and Eastern District conferences to reveal some past cycles in conference leadership and programming. In the past there was more focus on intentional planned gatherings that helped to build relationships between youth groups. History shows that conference youth ministry moved away from programming to more resourcing gatherings for youth leaders and youth. Over the years there were many effective initiatives that worked toward calling and developing young leaders through intentional relationships and mentoring. Another cycle was both conferences’ connection to Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in development, teaching, and vision while inviting a close connection to congregations. This relationship benefited the church, home, and school as Anabaptist faith was woven through education.
As I listened to each table report, I heard a strong call for more gatherings where discussion and discernment can happen. There was a desire for a deeper spirituality and to create settings where young people can share about what God is doing in their lives and discuss theological issues. I have noticed over my years in conference leadership that we have moved from a “theology of answers” to more of a teaching style and discipleship that welcomes questions and discovery. This changed how we worked at faith formation in congregations and conferences.
I heard the world “belonging” used many times during the evening. Young people seem to want to belong to the church. I sense church leaders are searching for ways to create a safe place for young people to feel like they belong as they surround them with adults that walk with and mentor them, while pointing the way to a relationship with Christ. This approach uses spiritual practices and story to weave faith through culture instead of teaching young people that they need to be separate from the world—a philosophy that sometimes created fear of the culture and the world. This is a change from the programming, teaching, and preaching from the past that was more of an evangelistic focus, that is, more about “saving” young people and then teaching and discipling them into belonging to the church.
As one of the youth closed the meeting with a final blessing, I was overwhelmed by the gift of this meeting as I transition out of my position as conference youth minister in July. I am leaving with deep hope as conference leaders work toward a shared vision for youth ministry. I have been truly blessed working with many youth pastors and volunteer leaders that have a passion for walking with young people, loving them unconditionally, and extending God’s grace within a faith community.