Laura Epp is passionate about the Mennonite church. The 22-year-old is the secretary of Mennonite Church Saskatchewan’s Ministries Commission.She has attended the annual MC Saskatchewan delegate sessions for the last eight years, and in the past has served on the Saskatchewan Mennonite Youth Organization committee and counselled at the Shekinah Retreat Centre.
“I feel that it is important to be involved in the wider church, at the very least to stay informed about what is going on in our conference,” says Epp, who is a member at Zoar Mennonite Church, Langham. “But more than that, young people have a real opportunity to voice their opinions and make a difference. Many young adults have formed their own ideas about how the church should be, and need to come forward, get involved and share their ideas.”
Willard Metzger is not surprised when he hears stories like Epp’s. During his time as executive director of MC Canada, Metzger has observed the different ways young adults think about their involvement with the national church.
“Some are quite eager to offer their gifts, some are dismissive of larger church institutions,” Metzger says. “But probably the most common reaction I experience is one of ambivalence, no expression of eagerness or avoidance, [but] rather simple disinterest and unawareness.”
Josh Baergen counts himself in this last group. The 21-year-old attends Niagara United Mennonite Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., where he teaches Sunday school and is a youth group leader. While Baergen has taken part in MC Eastern Canada’s Yella learning tour to the Middle East, that is where his knowledge of the wider Mennonite church ends. He has never attended an area church annual general meeting or an MC Canada assembly.
“It’s mentioned here and there,” he says of those events. “[But] it’s almost like it doesn’t pertain to me when I hear it. My church is kind of like a bubble, it seems, and I don’t really go out of it.” Wider church activities and events are mentioned in the church bulletin all the time, but “I skip over it,” he says.
Devon Howie is in the same boat. While she has attended MC B.C. youth and young adult retreats in the past, the 19-year-old says she does not think much about what goes on at the area and national church levels. “I’ve never really thought very much about the wider church,” says Howie, who attends Sherbrooke Mennonite Church, Vancouver, adding that the same goes for her friends. “We don’t talk much about the wider church, so I’m not sure how they feel about these institutions. But from what we have talked about it, I think [some] are engaged and the rest are ambivalent.”
Dave Bergen, MC Canada’s executive director of formation, encourages young people to not give up on thinking about what it means to be a part of the wider church. It is, after all, simply the next level of the congregation. Being involved in the wider church makes it possible to work with other believers to discern the future of the church and its ministries.
“If you want to take on the world and its issues through the eyes of your faith, what better way to do that than with others like yourself who claim faith in Jesus Christ and want to do the same thing?” Bergen asks.
He adds that if young adults want to get more involved in the wider church, they should pursue what interests them. It does not necessarily mean attending an annual general meeting or sitting on a committee. It could mean something like participating on a short-term service trip organized by an area church or MC Canada.
Epp has had numerous positive experiences being involved in the wider Mennonite church, and believes that it is relatively easy to get involved and be heard. “If a young person would like to have a voice, there are tonnes of people in the Mennonite church who would bend over backwards to hear them,” she says. “I know from experience that it is not difficult to get attention if you are a young adult willing to provide some input to the Mennonite church.”