Dr. Lawrence Ressler has spent nearly four decades as a social work professor and academic administrator in Christian higher education including time at Eastern Mennonite […]
Kerinna Good is a rising high school junior who participated in the Step Up program at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando in July. She attends Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
I had the unique experience at the convention in Orlando of participating in the program called “Step Up,” which was an effort to integrate youth voices into the adult delegate sessions and Future Church Summit. Most youth spend convention attending worship services, participating in seminars and hanging out with their youth group while the adults participate in delegate sessions. Our very own Leah Wenger observed this separation of the youth from the adult agenda at the 2015 convention in Kansas City, and out of her desire for youth voices to be heard in delegate sessions at convention, the Step Up program was born.
As a Step Up participant, I spent my time in both the youth and adult spheres. I attended the youth worship services, listened to a few seminars and participated in the delegate sessions as well as the Future Church Summit. Does that sound exhausting? Believe, me, it was! The Future Church Summit participants spent eight and a half hours in the delegate hall on one particularly busy day.
Before convention, I knew next to nothing about the churchwide decision-making that occurred in the delegate hall every two years. As a participant, I learned about simple things like the voting process in which there is a call for a motion, a second to the motion and then a vote by show of hands. I also learned about the challenge of passing a resolution that satisfies the majority, but leaves out the perspectives of many people and congregations.
Though I did not have a vote, I enjoyed learning how the delegate session operates and hearing the diverse opinions on the Israel-Palestine resolution from Mennonites all over the country.
The Future Church Summit spanned Thursday evening through Saturday morning. The goal of the summit was to answer the question, “How will we follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century?” In order to answer that question, the Future Church Summit participants sat at tables of eight, similar to the delegate sessions, and engaged with specific prompts that were introduced by the sessions’ leader, Catherine Barnes, an Eastern Mennonite University Center for Justice and Peacebuilding professor. Each table had an iPad which was used to submit ideas to a theme team through an app. The theme team’s job was to distill the responses of over 500 people into several re-emerging themes.
Some of the prompts that the table groups responded to were, “What draws us to this faith?” “What are significant learnings from our history?” and “What are the implications of having diverse identities within our church?” The entire list of questions and condensed responses was compiled into a PDF that is available for those who are interested in reading it.
The Future Church Summit sessions also included open mic time and circle discussions. Hearing the perspectives of participants who came from different ethnic backgrounds than I gave me pause. Native American Mennonites from the Cherokee nation expressed the hurt that came from missions on reservations and the European Mennonites’ expectation that the Native people who joined the church would assimilate into European culture and leave behind their heritage. During an Anabaptist timeline activity, it was noted that the histories of many ethnic groups were left out.
This history is slightly disturbing to me. Because of this experience, I have come to question Anabaptist identity. Before this convention, I would have named singing in four-part harmony as a significant part of a Mennonite identity. However, I have realized that a true Anabaptist identity should be one that is not offensive or exclusive across many cultures, but rather an identity that is rooted in Jesus.
I am grateful for my opportunity to participate in the delegate sessions and Future Church Summit in Orlando. To the youth who will be going to Kansas City 2019, I highly recommend the experience. After participating in Step Up, I have a greater understanding of how Mennonite Church USA operates and I have heard many ideas that stretched my thinking.
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