I must confess, I love the youth worship experience at our Mennonite Church USA biennial conventions. Being that I was a youth pastor for 17 years before beginning work for the denomination, convention is what energized me about the Mennonites. Wichita 1995 was my first convention as a youth sponsor and I was honored to be youth worship leader in Nashville 2001. I even first met one of my staff members, Hannah Heinzekehr, when she was a teenager on the planning committee for Atlanta 2003.
For youth, convention worship is a unique experience. For some, it is a time to reflect on and listen to topics that are geared toward where they are at in life. For others it is the music. For many, it is the diversity of the crowd of four-to-six thousand Mennonites from across the nation coming together.
Whatever the reason, our youth seem to love convention worship, and it makes us better as a denomination.
• Convention worship is different; it is not like worship at home and it is not supposed to be.
• Convention worship is relevant to the challenges that are faced by many teenagers.
• Convention worship is done in community. Sometimes being a teen is lonely, and you may think you are the only one dealing with something. You’re not.
• Convention worship is beneficial to the future of Mennonite Church USA and the universal church. Many youth make faith and baptismal decisions following convention.
• Convention worship is diverse. Yes, there are different types of Mennonites. We aren’t monolithic, and that’s a good thing!
• Convention worship is diverse and sometimes controversial and that is not a bad thing. What better place for teens to discuss who we are as Anabaptists and as Christians? At some point, shouldn’t we all be able to both question and defend our faith? All of us, including youth, have to think carefully about our faith decisions and beliefs.
Originally, all worship services for youth and adults in Kansas City were going to happen in shared space. But after much thought and reflection it became clear that youth and adults come to convention for very different reasons and with differing worship expectations and needs. It is hard to mesh those expectations without falling short of our goals. Our adult delegates will be wrestling with the heavy issues of our denominational policies, while many of our youth are still struggling with who they are.
Having spent so many years mentoring and working with young people, I am deeply concerned about how we represent the gospel and how we shape formational experiences during worship. Our Mennonite conventions have a big impact on the lives our youth. We want worship to highlight and include sound use of scripture, meaningful music, and a message that both challenges and edifies the listener.
While anyone is welcome to attend any worship option, we want to make sure that youth worship at KC2015 is the faith formation experience that our parents, youth and youth leaders have come to expect. In fact, we think that youth worship in Kansas will exceed expectations. We still want to spend time worshipping all together, so our Tuesday evening opening worship and our Sunday morning closing worship will take place in shared space. But throughout the rest of the week, adults will have several morning and evening worship options to choose from and youth will have their own worship services twice daily. I hope that youth and adults from across Mennonite Church USA join us next summer in Kansas City, and that God will meet each of them there in a special way.