Joy Cotchen is the Allegheny Mennonite Conference Minister of Children and Youth. She has been a worship planner, office manager, and a volunteer who is beloved by all members of the convention planning staff!
Wichita ’95 was the first youth convention I attended. No, not as a youth, but as a sponsor. And I’ve never looked back. I’ve been a part of the conventions ever since in one capacity or another.
One of my favorite stories from convention was during a servant project where our youth went into a retirement home to visit the residents. We read newspapers, played bingo, gave manicures and sat with people. I remember one of the boys going into this thinking it wasn’t too cool, and then later walking past a room where this youth was talking to a resident and he was holding her baby (doll) as she was telling him about her. I remember seeing the biggest smile on his face as he was experiencing what it meant to serve someone through the simplest task of listening and just being a presence.
As I have watched youth over the years attend convention, I still love seeing the doors open for worship and kids rushing in to get a good seat. I can still see the amazement, in first time convention goers, as they realize that the Mennonite church is bigger than their back yard. I feel worshipping God in a space with thousands of other Mennonite youth from around the country opens eyes to where and with whom God is working. Convention is a space to see the diversity in the church and a place where youth can talk to other youth. It’s amazing that in only a few days relationships can be built that last a long time.
The one tradition that has impacted me and others powerfully over the years is the anointing service, where youth and adults are invited to come forward to be anointed and to receive prayer. I have had the blessing of participating in these services many times. Watching youth and sponsors stand in line waiting to share deep and personally with someone they don’t know in order to receive God’s anointing can move the church in powerful ways. This is a time where youth can see the church as a space for healing and feel safe walking with strangers as we share our joys and brokenness. When youth feel accepted for who they are and feel heard, they give shape to God’s kingdom here and now. Bring on Kansas City and see where God’s spirit will move us on the way!