Growing up, I loved Mennonite Youth conventions. And it wasn’t just because I met my soon-to-be-husband there. Philadelphia ’93, you certainly were the “City of Brotherly Love.” But that’s another story all together.
Why I loved the conventions so much wasn’t because of the fancy, loud worship. It wasn’t so much about the service projects. It wasn’t so much the compelling and insightful seminars.
What I loved most was getting the more complex view of the greater church. It amazed me to be in a room with thousands of other Mennonites. Because, first of all, I had no idea there were so many of “us” out there, as I was only one of two from my high school of 2,500, my brother being the other.
Gaining a much larger sense of the body of Christ with its many parts was eye opening. For a teenager whose worldview generally revolved pretty close to myself, this was a mind-blowing experience. This perspective enabled me to understand with appreciation the many ways the Spirit of Christ moves, enacts, and was embodied in our Church. And with such a rich, and varied expression I could place myself smack dab in the middle of it and imagine myself being a part of the whole.
Youth today are also yearning to experience a greater sense of the whole. They want to be a part of something larger than themselves. They want to feel included, connected, and accepted. They desire to be a true, integral part of the church at large. They don’t just want to be someone to be marketed to or just some sideshow that needs to be entertained.
This is one reason why I am so glad that worship this year in Kansas City will be intergenerational. As we worship together, arm to arm, the true Church is represented. Young and older alike. Side by side. Learning and growing together. Experiencing the church and walking alongside as it struggles and wrestles with what it means to be the Body with its many parts—connected yet varied – and each an integral part.
I realize that there are many factors that prohibit congregations from sending youth groups to Mennonite conventions. But no matter how many mission trips or service projects your home congregation does, you will never fully be able to recreate the sense of the greater whole of the church than by attending these denominational gatherings. I can think of no better formational experience that transforms a narrow perspective of what church is and the God that calls it into being than joining in a Mennonite convention experience.
Like the followers on the Road to Emmaus that walked together, we need one another on the way. For as we stand with one another, we awaken and see that Christ appears, blessing us all.
Hope to see you at Kansas City!
Rachel Springer Gerber is the Denominational Minister for Youth and Young Adults. Rachel has a bachelor of arts degree in education from Goshen (Ind.) College and a Master of Divinity degree from Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Va. Recently she finished her first book, Ordinary Miracles, a memoir on the ministry of parenthood to be published through Herald Press in the spring of 2014. Rachel will serve as part of the youth worship planning committee and will coordinate young adult programming in Kansas City. She lives in Bloomington, Ind., with her husband, Shawn, and three sons.