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10 MVS units closing

12.4. 2014 Written By: Kelsey Hochstetler 1,749 read

Left to right: Linnea Slabaugh, Ashley Fehlberg, Carl Lehmann, Andrea Moya, and Ben Hiebert serve with Mennonite Voluntary Service in Chicago. Photo provided.

Starting in August 2015, Mennonite Voluntary Service will offer 11 community service options.

In order to provide more meaningful service experiences in larger household communities, 10 MVS units will close.

The following MVS units will continue to serve with strong participation from host congregations, service placements, and young adults.

Alamosa, Colo.
Chicago, Ill.
Elkhart, Ind.
Kansas City, Kan.
Madison, Wis.
Manhattan, N.Y.
San Antonio, Texas
San Francisco, Calif.
Seattle, Wash.
Tucson, Ariz.
Washington, D.C.

After the restructure, MVS will continue to evaluate and strengthen the service experiences for young adults.

On a three-year rotation, each host congregation will work together with MVS staff to evaluate their unit’s strengths and weaknesses, in order to provide the best experience for participants and the communities where they serve.

The following MVS units will close after the current service term ends in July 2015.

This includes three units that closed voluntarily, marked with an asterisk, before the discernment process started.

Americus, Ga.
Baltimore, Md.
Boulder, Colo.*
Evansville, Ind.
Fresno, Calif.
Harlingen, Texas*
Kykotsmovi, Ariz.*
Rochester, N.Y.
Sioux Falls, S.D.
St. Louis, Mo.

MVS, a service opportunity of Mennonite Mission Network, offers young adults a space to engage deeply in a local church, integrate into a new neighborhood, live in an intentional community, and gain meaningful work experience.

“When all four of these [components] function well and there is overlap between them, the seeds of a powerfully transformative year are planted in fertile soil. When one or more of the components is diminished, we need to address the situation,” said Nathan Penner, director of MVS.

“I’m excited by the potential of MVS to have a greater impact in the communities where we work as well as in the lives of young adults” said Penner. “I’m optimistic that MVS has a bright future based on the amount of enthusiasm and commitment that each of the host congregations showed through this evaluation process. The creativity in the ways that MVSers are both supported and challenged will only serve to strengthen the impact of the ministries of our partner congregations, as well as help to shape the vocations of MVSers for years to come.”

In recent years, the number of MVS participants decreased. Since the height of the Great Recession in 2009, many young adults sought jobs to support themselves, even though a recent survey showed that a majority of MVSers were offered a paid position at their service placement following their 2013-2014 term.

The decline in participants prompted MVS to restructure, and while it is never easy, restructuring comes with a variety of benefits for all parts of MVS communities.

“MVSers have multiple intersecting communities that all play a vital role in their nurture, learning and discernment. Their community back home, the hosting church, work, neighborhood, and household communities all shape their understanding of the role faith plays in their work and life,” said Del Hershberger, director of Christian Service for Mennonite Mission Network.

Fewer MVS communities mean fuller units. Instead of a current average of three people per unit, Penner expects units to have four to eight people.

This will allow MVS participants to grow as leaders and will permit extroverts to flourish. Meanwhile, introverts will still have the needed space to rejuvenate, Penner said.

Larger intentional communities will also allow for more friendship opportunities and a better chance of finding people to grow with along their faith journey.

“A healthy household community is one place in addition to church and neighborhood communities where you can engage in conversation to fine-tune or reassess values and perspectives you hold,” said Hershberger.

“In Christian community like MVS, we hear God speaking through each other to get a fuller picture of what God desires for the world and how we individually and corporately can live out our part in that,” said Hershberger. “Community creates an atmosphere of discernment and accountability to God and each other.”

Fuller units will allow MVS to invest more heavily in its participants, because of increased financial stability.

MVS plans to invest in anti-racism and intercultural development trainings and retreats for their participants.

Locally, units will be better equipped to handle these trainings if a larger MVS unit is involved, rather than one or two MVSers, said Neil Richer, assistant MVS director.

Fuller units will allow a more consistent and closer relationship with host communities. It can be intimidating to engage in a congregation or neighborhood with just one other person. However, in a larger unit, community activities become social outings and the unit can engage more actively. When this happens, the relationships between MVSers, host congregations, service placements, and neighborhoods grow stronger.

While the benefits of restructuring are great, “[it] was a difficult decision with inevitable losses, both for the units that will close as well as for those of us in local units that are remaining,” said Alice Price, a local leader for the Alamosa MVS unit.

Price represented MVS local leaders in the eight-month discernment process, and was a part of shaping her local congregation’s involvement regarding the Alamosa MVS unit.

“I felt the discernment process was a very thoughtful and helpful one. … In the long run, I believe this restructure will not diminish the program, but keep MVS and volunteers’ experiences of MVS a dynamic force within the larger church.”

The reference group included Price, a pastor, conference and denominational ministers, a Mennonite Mission Network board member, a Mennonite college professor, and a young adult.

Mennonite Voluntary Service began in 1944 and was “originally launched to provide Mennonite young adults the opportunity for an alternative witness to engaging in war-making,” said Stanley W. Green, the executive director for Mennonite Mission Network. “In the years afterward, MVS grew and went through many changes to accommodate the program and cultural shifts that followed, like the ending of the draft. …The current changes being made in MVS are designed to ensure the strength and vitality of a much-needed program that will continue to shape leaders in the Mennonite Church for decades to come.”

For more information about service opportunities like MVS, visit www.MennoniteMission.net/serve.

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