Conversations provide structure for feedback
By Janie Beck Kreider
(Mennonite Church USA) — Approximately 40 young adults at KC2015 — the Mennonite Church USA convention held June 30–July 5 in Kansas City, Missouri — gathered July 3 for an evening of synergistic conversation on a range of church-related topics.
“We wanted to create a space where young adults could get together and talk about their concerns and what matters to them in church,” says Rachel Gerber, denominational pastor for youth and young adults, who hosted the event with Katie Chaffinch, young adult gathering coordinator. “It was a highly invested group because those gathered were the ones who chose the discussion topics and led the conversations.”
At the event, titled “For the Sake of the Church: Sharing Our Voice and Perspective,” participants who posed a question or a conversation topic at the beginning of the evening became small group facilitators.
Five young adults — Hannah Chappell-Dick, Indigo Miller, Angela Moore, Rachel Stella and Bobby Switzer — guided conversations on young adults and church involvement, young adult leadership, structure and process at the Mennonite Church USA Delegate Assembly, creation care, and human sexuality/inclusion of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) individuals in the church.
Participants in the conversations were mostly 20-something participants who were involved at convention in various roles, including delegates, youth sponsors, volunteers and agency representatives. Members of each conversation group compiled their notes and drafted a proposal; these were then combined to create a document titled “Young adults speak.”
Delegate Assembly structure and process
One group reflected on the experience of serving as delegates at KC2015 and came up with suggestions for how to improve some of the processes of future delegate assemblies.
Facilitator Angela Moore of Chesterton, Indiana, says she wished that more of the business of being a delegate would revolve around table group discussion.
“We weren’t given enough time to really discuss the substantive pieces of resolutions,” she says. “The voting process felt rushed and confusing, and there were times when it seemed like the delegate body as a whole was unsure of what exactly we were voting on, or what the practical effect of each voting option would be.”
As part of their proposal, the members of Moore’s conversation group drafted a list of questions outlining “important things to clarify before taking any vote,” offered suggestions for making more efficient use of time throughout the delegate sessions, and proposed ways to educate and inform delegates about resolution subject matter and voting processes.
Because delegates are often charged with making decisions on complex issues, Moore’s group suggested that resources pertaining to the subject matter be presented to the delegate body at the assembly, either via oral presentations or written statements. For example, they would have welcomed a statement from Pastor Alex Awad prior to the vote on the Israel-Palestine resolution.
For other resolutions, they suggested having a theologian speak to delegates regarding the biblical basis for the resolution, or reading a statement from people who would be directly affected by the resolution to be voted upon in order to educate delegates on the effect of their decisions.
“If we honestly believe in a church polity where the delegate body makes the decisions of the church, the system in place must actually allow for delegates to make well-informed decisions,” the group wrote.
Human sexuality/ LGBTQ inclusion
The conversation group on human sexuality and LGBTQ inclusion, facilitated by Indigo Miller of Colorado Springs, Colorado, noted that while various views on sexuality exist among young adults, “there is a desire for community and relationship that holds dear the differences among us and seeks to gain understanding of perspectives and experiences outside our own.”
“The church has a unique opportunity, as a community bonded by Christ, to be a safe place for openness and exploration about what it means to be a healthy, whole human,” group members wrote.
Hannah Chappell-Dick of Harrisonburg, Virginia, facilitated a discussion about Mennonite Church USA and creation care. Group members expressed their disappointment in what they regard as “a noticeable lack of focus on this urgent issue.”
While affirming the variety of seminars dedicated to climate change and the response of the church [at KC2015], they noted the “complete silence in the delegate hall” on this topic.
“We want to challenge Mennonite Church USA to recognize the scope of climate change … and begin to take seriously our responsibility to care for this Earth,” they wrote. “Being an Anabaptist has always required sacrifice in defense of our countercultural beliefs. The Mennonite Church is already well equipped to be a leader in (nonviolent) resistance to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced: climate change. The church is a body of hope, and we need hope.”
Young adults and church involvement
Rachel Stella, who recently became assistant editor/web editor of Mennonite World Review, came to the event wanting to discuss young adult involvement in the church.
The members of her conversation group reflected on their own motivations for remaining engaged in their church communities, in the hope of encouraging their peers to do the same. They offered suggestions for how congregations and conferences might focus their efforts to remain attractive to young adults.
“Please see us as equal brothers and sisters with you, as capable as you are of communicating, teaching, organizing, studying, serving, encouraging and leading,” the group members wrote. “Please affirm us, but do not court us as a ‘target demographic.’ Please welcome our input and ideas. Please teach us and please learn from us. Please trust us and please be trustworthy.”
“Ultimately, these are things that need to be addressed at the congregational level, but I also really appreciated having this conversation in the context of the denomination,” reflects Stella. “It’s hard to know exactly how others are feeling, and we are not meant to go it alone.”
Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, attended the event and heard feedback from each conversation group.
“Our time together went by much too quickly,” says Stutzman. “I was impressed by the many astute observations and suggestions that these young adults made, and I would value the opportunity to continue the conversation in other venues.”
“What spoke loudest to me throughout the evening was the high level of investment and passion expressed by these young adults,” reflects Gerber. “They are engaged and want to be treated as full participants as the church moves forward.”
Since convention, Gerber has facilitated a Google Hangout for young adults interested in continuing the conversation. More virtual conversations are scheduled to take place in the coming months.
“I see my role in this as connecting, not directing how the conversation will go,” she says. “The denomination can learn a lot from these perspectives if we are willing to listen.”
To find out how to get involved or join in future conversations, join the Mennonite Church USA Young Adults Facebook group.
See the combined feedback document: “Young adults speak”
Hannah Chappell-Dick, delegate for First Mennonite of Bluffton, Ohio, speaks during open mic time at the Mennonite Church USA Delegate Assembly in Kansas City, Missouri. On July 3, Chappell-Dick facilitated a small group discussion about Mennonite Church USA and creation care at the young adult event titled, “For the Sake of the Church: Sharing Our Voice and Perspective.” (Photo by Abby Graber)
Participants in the young adult conversation — “For the Sake of the Church: Sharing Our Voice and Perspective” — held July 3 at the KC2015 convention.