Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
Joy Cotchen is the Conference Minister for Children and Youth for Allegheny Mennonite Conference.
For over 50 years, Allegheny Mennonite Conference (AMC) has devoted time, energy, staff and resources toward children and youth as one if its highest priorities for conference life. In 1979, the first paid staff person was engaged to oversee children and youth activities, along with co-sponsoring summer camps at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania. I have been privileged to serve in this position for the last 18 years.
Something unique to youth ministry in AMC is the Youth Cabinet, which has been in place for the past 30-plus years. “Cabinet” is made up of high school juniors and seniors, along with young adult representatives and the conference youth minister. This group of young people plans the youth retreats and AMC summer conference activities for their peers. They also lead and staff the events themselves, sometimes leading worship at summer conference gatherings. This is a great way to nurture leadership skills in youth. It is a safe place to test skills for future ministry opportunities and it is also a place to build relationships, becoming a mutually beneficial support network for their spiritual journeys. In 2010, the AMC Leadership Council took action to invite youth representatives to join the Council, believing it important to have youth voices around the table.
As we co-sponsor summer children and youth camps with Laurelville, we are able to hire many youth and young adults from our member congregations. Summer camp staff is a great place to both nurture personal spiritual life and to practice ministry and leadership skills. And, along with Cabinet, I get to walk alongside and mentor these young people, one of my greatest passions! Getting to watch children grow through their years as summer campers into the place of becoming a counselor is both fun and most rewarding. For the past few summers, former staff have also stepped into the role of the day-to-day Camp Director. Summer camp is a key place where we get to nurture children and youth on their faith journeys, supported directly through my role as Minister of Children and Youth.
Promoting our conference and denominational events, along with promoting Christian higher education (MC USA college representatives attend many of our SnoKamps each winter), helps give options and opens opportunities for our youth to serve and engage across the church. We also host a very focused fall retreat and an inductive Bible study to provide spaces for digging into the Word.
Our winter retreat, SnoKamp, is way for youth to continue to learn and build relationships across conference and the church. For many, the relationship piece has become so important to them even as they move in different directions with their lives. There have been more than a few weddings develop out of our conference youth events and working together.
I am certain that keeping children and youth at the center of Allegheny conference priorities has not only raised the profile of our conference in their lives, but has also strengthened their faith and built lasting connections to the broader church.
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