by Sheldon C. Good
HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. – Franconia and Eastern District Conferences are hosting junior and senior high youth this June at an event that will feature elements very similar to the biennial Mennonite Church USA youth convention, but with one key difference – it’s outside.
The worship event, cosponsored by the Mennonite Heritage Center, will be held from 12-3pm on June 1 on the lawn of 569 Yoder Road, Harleysville, a campus shared by the Mennonite Heritage Center and the Conference offices. The rain location is Christopher Dock Mennonite High School’s auditorium (Lansdale, Pa.).
After eating lunch together at noon, potentially hundreds of youth will spread out on the lawn for free time and then worship featuring Luke Hartman, vice president of admissions at Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Va.), as the main speaker. Hartman’s message will focus on John 17’s call to unity in the body of Christ. He will collaborate with his good friend Peder Eide, a popular musician and worship leader in the Lutheran Church.
Additional music will be provided by Susquehanna, a band of students from Christopher Dock. Band members are John Bergstresser, Ryan Moyer, Austin Kratz, Brooks Inciardi, Simon Nam, Derek Reeser, and Ethan Neal.
John Stoltzfus, conference youth pastor and one of the event planners, anticipates that the event will invite youth to consider “what God is doing among us and who God is calling us to be together.”
He said there are several goals for the event: to provide opportunity for deepening relationships and fellowship among youth across conference churches; to give space for youth to engage in inspiring worship and experience renewal in their relationships with God and one another; and to offer a witness to the surrounding community of the church’s call to be a united people of God.
Mike Ford, associate pastor of youth at Blooming Glen (Pa.) congregation, has also been integrally involved in the event’s planning. He hopes that “youth leave challenged and encouraged spiritually, and that they also experience a healthy dose of fun and fellowship.”
The gathering is part of an ongoing commitment in Franconia Conference to help individuals and congregations connect, says Ertell Whigham, Franconia’s executive minister. “While it’s true that it takes little or no effort for us to find opportunities to disagree, it takes a greater commitment to reach out across our diversity and connect in ways that express the kingdom of God,” he reflects. He encourages congregations to keep this event in prayer, as youth gather to worship, play, grow, and share a meal together in Christ.
“Now that’s a very cool way to connect,” he says.