Rachelle Luitjens serves as pastor at Sugar Creek Mennonite Church in Wayland, Iowa. She is at MennoCon19 with her youth group and family. Rachelle loves hanging out with the youth, but in her free time she also enjoys reading, coffee, listening to podcasts and watching hockey.
“Green Machine, Green Machine, Green Machine!” The chant was new in the morning, but by the afternoon it had increased both in volume and enthusiasm. We are only one squad, but we are the Green Squad here at MennoCon19.
We began our day at our squad pep rally, entering tentatively, not knowing what to expect. There were a few get-to-know-you questions, exercises and some rounds of “would you rather” which limbered us up for the day. Like all squads, Green is made up of youth groups from across Mennonite Church USA who didn’t know each other until today. We still don’t really know each other, but I expect that will change as the week continues.
My youth group wasn’t sure they wanted to be a part of a squad — “What is it anyways? Do we have to?” We have a pretty tight-knit group and they wanted to keep it that way. “Yes, you have to. Try to keep an open mind and give it a go.” And we did.
It wasn’t all smooth and easy. There were some groans and a few eye rolls as we struggled to let go of our worry about what the others might think.
But you know what? For some in our youth group, squads are what stood out at the end of the day. They went from “Do we have to?” to “We’re doing that again tomorrow, right?”
When I asked the youth what they thought about squads, and what they had experienced, the one thing that came up again and again was community. Community for a group that already felt they had community and didn’t necessarily need more. I was intrigued.
So, what’s the big deal about squads? This is what I heard:
“It’s a place you can come together that isn’t so overwhelming as the rest of convention with so many people around.”
“It’s fun getting to know other youth groups. We wouldn’t have done that on our own.”
“It’s cool being a part of a group, and it’s fun cheering together when all of the squads are there.”
“Wait … we get time with the speakers just for us? Every day? That’s so cool.”
It all boiled down to one thing: community. And how awesome is it that we discovered this on the day when both worship sessions directed our attention to community in different ways?
Dustin Galyon challenged us to surrender our fears by getting into community. Sue Park-Hur gave us the image of a cross of reconciliation and challenged us to greet each other in community, including those who don’t look or act like us. And squads both gave us a place to practice community and to realize that we are a part of this bigger community. Youth felt valued. They had a chance to meet with Dustin and ask him questions in a space meant for them. Youth were inspired by his message of community — hearing it and putting it into practice.
We have a tight-knit youth group, they really do like each other. But throughout the day we were challenged to be more than us, to look beyond the comfortable and normal, and to step out bravely into a new community that we didn’t know we wanted or needed. But we do want it, and we do need it.
I saw our youth wanting to take turns at waving the green flag. I saw them leading others in chants. I saw them worship together. I saw them engaging with others who didn’t travel here with us. I saw them learning about a community that is much larger than they ever imagined. I saw them beginning to see that they are a real and important piece of this larger denomination. I saw them come out of themselves to be more than just us. I saw them having fun in community.
Green Machine is just a chant for one week, but for this week it is helping us to step into community with others across our denomination. So, if you hear squads chanting, let it bring a smile to your face. We are our own little communities. And we are part of your larger community.
“Green Machine, Green Machine, Green Machine!”