Empowering youth at the Special Assembly

Deborah Froese
April 13, 2017
Mennonite Church Canada
Anneli Loepp Thiessen (left) and Katrina Woelk (right).
Poster for fund-raising initiatve
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Youth are in demand. When the Emerging Voices Initiative (EVI) held a cross-Canada tour in 2016-17, the importance of encouraging youth involvement in area and national church initiatives rose to the surface again and again. Their presence is wanted at the Special Delegate Assembly in Winnipeg on Oct. 13 -15, 2017.

But how do you encourage youth to attend?

Make it easy and inviting!

Financial assistance can sometimes be an issue for youth, so EVI is inviting donations that make it easier for high school students to attend. That will give them the opportunity to help imagine the church of the future in a multi-faith world challenged by bullying, racism, and inequality – issues of special importance to youth. EVI will serve as hosts, ensuring youth are up-to-speed on the details and the process. To support their initiative, EVI is inviting financial support from donors. Their objective: to raise $20,000. Thanks to two generous supporters, $5,000 in seed funding is already in place.

“[Through EVI] we’ve been empowered and encouraged to share,” says Anneli Loepp Thiessen, an EVI member and one of the lead planners of the initiative. “Now we have the opportunity to pass that on to others.”

The young adults calling themselves EVI came together when the Future Directions Task Force (FDTF) presented their broad-strokes proposal for reshaping national and area church structures. They came from congregations across the country and longed  to pursue further conversation about the FDTF proposal. Their desire led to the creation of EVI’s vision statement and a response to the proposal – developments that were met with enthusiasm and encouragement from the wider church body.

Unlike many wider church activities, financial assistance for youth attending this event won’t hinge on them attending with youth groups. “This isn’t intended to be a youth assembly, and that gives us more flexibility,” says Loepp Thiessen. “We can have 2 or 50 or 60 youth depending upon fundraising and interest.”

Reflecting on the 2016 Assembly in Saskatoon, Sask. which was attended by 30-40 youth, Loepp Thiessen notes the unique challenge faced by that age group. Only baptised church members who attend assemblies as official delegates are allowed to vote. That eliminates many youth who aren’t typically baptised until they are older. With that challenge, she asks, “how can we make them feel more involved?”

Addressing that question is key, says Katrina Woelk, another lead planner. “If youth feel empowered and involved they might be more invested [in the future of the church]. That was my experience with EVI.”

Woelk, Loepp Thiessen, and a few other EVI members met with Mennonite Church Canada’s Future Directions Transition Coordinator Keith Regehr to brainstorm ideas that would help empower and encourage youth. Youth sponsorship rose to the surface.

So, how do they plan to integrate youth in the wider conversation?

Youth will meet with EVI at the Radisson Hotel in Wpg., the venue for the October Assembly, and engage with the Future Directions Task Force proposal on Friday evening to prepare for discussions on Saturday. Youth will integrate with adult delegates at Assembly table discussions, with EVI members circulating to answer any questions they might have, empowering them to speak. Following the closing session, there will be time for debriefing.

“We’ll encourage live tweeting, open mic sharing, and reporting back to their churches after the Assembly ends – things that are energizing for them,” says Woelk. The objective is to ensure they are as much a part of the discussion as other delegates.

“They aren’t there because they can vote, but because they have an important voice,” says Loepp Thiessen. “We want no youth to feel they can’t come because of money, and the seed money we have received shows that others are interested in them being there too.”

Youth will stay together on the same floor of the Radison, with lots of food and fun included.

EVI welcomes donations to help make it easier for youth to attend the October Assembly. In addition, they invite prayer support and mentorship for youth as they prepare for the event. 

Photo Credits: 
Deborah Froese, Ryan Roth Bartel