By Jenny Castro
(Mennonite Church USA) — At Youth Ministry Council: The Gathering 2016, held Jan. 29-Feb. 1 in Orlando, Florida, 42 youth workers from across Mennonite Church USA met to network, encourage one another, worship together and explore approaches to faith formation through real-life scenarios.
“It was an amazing time of meeting, connecting and problem-solving with other Anabaptist youth ministers and pastors,” says Lindsay Diener, youth minister at Jubilee Mennonite in Meridian, Mississippi. “As a new youth minister, I sometimes feel I’m fumbling around in the dark. After The Gathering, I feel that I have a network of support and people who have wisdom that I can draw from in the future.”
Real-world theology and Anabaptist distinctives
The theme for this year’s gathering was “Ministry Matters: Youth and real-world theology.” Participants were invited ahead of time to submit case studies based on real experiences in ministry. The group spent most of their time together analyzing these case studies to figure out effective approaches based on lived experiences and Anabaptist values.
“We were looking for something really tactile, hands-on and practical,” says Rachel Springer Gerber, denominational minister for youth and young adults for Mennonite Church USA. “We hoped our discussions could have practical benefits for youth workers in their home contexts.”
Over the course of the weekend Michele Hershberger, a Bible and ministry faculty member at Hesston (Kansas) College, facilitated discussions exploring the distinctives of Anabaptist youth ministry.
“I think it’s good every once in a while to revisit what we do in our approach to ministry that is distinctively Anabaptist,” says Gerber. “Anabaptism informs our faith and therefore our ministry, but too often, those values are implicit, understood or assumed. This weekend we hoped to make our implicit Anabaptist values explicit, becoming more aware of how they influence our ministry with youth and young adults.”
Joining with campus pastors
This was the first year that the Youth Ministry Council coincided with the annual gathering of Mennonite campus pastors of colleges, universities and seminaries.
“It was great to connect with the broader YMC, to see other friends and colleagues from around the church,” said Bob Yoder, campus pastor at Goshen (Indiana) College. The campus pastors met with YMC: The Gathering participants for part of the time, but also participated separate breakout groups geared toward their ministry.
Annual meeting renamed
This year was also a transitional year for the title of this annual meeting of youth workers from across the denomination. The creation of The Gathering Place website in July 2015 provided youth workers a space for virtual networking and support. In the same vein, The Gathering will offer real-life, real-time space for those involved in faith formation work.
“For people already familiar with Youth Ministry Council, we called it YMC: The Gathering 2016,” says Gerber. “Next year it’ll simply be The Gathering 2017.”
Youth Ministry Leadership Team transitions
At the close of the meetings, Mennonite Church USA’s Youth Ministry Leadership Team, which supports the denominational minister for youth and young adults and sets the vision for youth faith formation across the denomination, announced the following transitions in leadership:
Concluding their three-year terms of service:
- Michele Hershberger, representative for Mennonite Education Agency, Hesston College
- Cedric Roth, youth minister for Franklin Mennonite Conference
Kim Litwiller, associate conference minister for Illinois Mennonite Conference, is beginning a three-year term of service on the team.
Continuing team members:
- John Stoltzfus, youth minister for Franconia Mennonite and Eastern District conferences
- Olivia Bartel, representative for Mennonite Camping Association
- Lesley and Caleb McClendon, assistant pastors of youth at Calvary Community Church, Hampton, Virginia
- Andrea Wall, co-pastor at Bethesda Mennonite Church, Henderson, Nebraska
- Danilo Sanchez, representative for MCC U.S. and youth pastor for Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
Participants at Youth Ministry Council: The Gathering 2016, held Jan. 29-Feb. 1 in Orlando, Florida.
Katie Dyck, youth sponsor at Rainbow Mennonite Church, Kansas City, Kansas, and Renee Reimer, youth program director at Rainbow, at Youth Ministry Council: The Gathering 2016, held Jan. 29-Feb. 1 in Orlando, Florida.