Who are you bringing to convention?

studyconference2013.EB-foyer-verticalBecause of Crossroads MB Church’s representation at conference events, people often assume it’s a large church, but the 100-member fellowship in Winnipeg merely sends its quota of delegates. “If just the pastor goes, how is the wonderful stuff that happened at convention going to trickle down to the congregation?” says pastor Marvin Dyck.

To foster participation, Dyck invites delegates to report to the congregation in the Sunday service. Crossroads covers registration costs to remove financial obstacles, and the nominations committee fills the delegate slate with as much fervour as the Sunday school teacher list.

A culture of encouraging youth

Encouraging people to attend conference events is also part of the culture at Fort Garry MB, Winnipeg. “It seems to be a reflex that we think about younger people to be involved in conferences,” says Ruth Schellenberg, pastor of children’s ministry. “We think about who we should encourage to come and then we ask,” she says. “People respond when their gifts of leadership are acknowledged.”

The benefits go both ways, says Schellenberg: “It’s important for the health of our conference that all voices are heard” and “that young leaders see seasoned leaders in action and witness firsthand the importance of our Canadian conference at work.”

“I want to place young leaders where they can build relationships with leaders from other parts of the country,” says Aldon Loeppky, and grow “beyond what is available in our local ministry setting.” The transitional pastor at North Peace MB, Fort St. John, B.C., brought pastoral intern Josh Klassen to study conference. By meeting leaders and observing MB process, Klassen gained “new appreciation for our conference, the challenges we face and our leaders; and many new friendships to nurture.”

Part of the family

studyconference2013-LK-table-discussionPastor Brent Miller of College Drive, Lethbridge, Alta., emphasizes to his congregation “the value of larger family.” His church has developed a partnership with Église Chrétienne de Ste. Rose (Que.) and Jericho Ridge, Langley, B.C. Attending national events “now includes spending time…strengthening those relationships.”

At Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask., “it’s important to us that students see God’s people gathered, engaging fully in issues that matter to them,” says Darlene Klassen, internship coordinator and church ministries instructor. “We consider ourselves to be a part of the larger church body.”

Bethany faculty and staff encourage students to participate in conference events through “lots of conversations (both public and private, in person and in print) in the months before,” says Klassen, and by “clearing barriers – helping to cover transportation and accommodation costs and giving students the options of using conference attendance and reflections as credit toward courses.”

“We need the next generation to engage in church life,” says Gil Dueck, Bethany College’s academic dean. “Faculty sell the value of these events as an opportunity to see what the wider church is up to. When faculty are enthusiastic, students take their cues from that.”

“It helps if provincial leaders…give a push of encouragement,” says Ralph Gliege. The outgoing Saskatchewan MB director of church ministries accompanies candidates to Pastors Credentialing Orientation as “dad” each year; he believes in delegates travelling in groups to build relationship and debrief issues. Gliege recalls his lonely first Gathering in 1979: “We were new to the conference; we didn’t have a typical last name; if we could have attended with those who were already ‘in,’ it would have been more enjoyable.”

Expect engagement

Bethany students engaged with plenary speaker Robert Gagnon at 2013's study conference.

Bethany students engaged with plenary speaker Robert Gagnon at 2013’s study conference.

“I get asked each time how my pastor convinced me to come, how I was managing to stay awake and why on earth I was there,” says 22-year-old Janessa Hiebert of her numerous conference experiences. It saddens her that people expect her age group to be uninterested.

The Crossroads member, who’s taken the mic at a provincial Assembly to exhort churches to send their youth, considers it a privilege to represent her congregation and experience Canada-wide unity. “I’m encouraged by the fact that I’ve been chosen to go,” she says. National events like Gathering “further encourage how I feel the MB church tries to be an equal and non-hierarchical community – where I as a single, young woman am as much a part of the decision-making process as any other member.”

Hiebert says her generation’s engagement is directly tied to what others expect from them: “If we’re given responsibility and trust, we will rise to the occasion.”

This year’s national MB Gathering is June 11–14, 2014, in Vancouver (www.gathering.mennonitebrethren.ca). Who are you bringing?

studyconference2013.LP-floor-eating

All photos from the 2013 study conference at River West Christian Church, Edmonton.

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