Welcoming Intergenerational Discernment

July 5, 2024

In the peaceful surroundings of Pathways Retreat Center of Goshen, IN, the Missional Leadership Team (MLT) gathered for a two-day retreat. Briefly setting aside the regular business of conference leadership, the MLT entered into a time of reflecting on the past and listening for the Spirit’s leading forward. In the midst of these generative conversations, excitement began to grow around the idea of widening our conference discernment circles to intentionally include youth and young adults.

What was initially one of several ideas that had come forward, the idea of involving younger folks quickly rose to the top as an important move for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference. Inspired by the recent Mennonite Church USA delegate gathering where the voices of young people were influential and integral in deciding the intervals between MennoCon gatherings, the MLT were reminded that younger persons have a stake in what the church does. Their voice matters and there was great affirmation for finding ways to make that possible at the conference level.

Over the following months, MLT continued to discern and dialog around this, eventually forming a proposal that would allow for congregations to send two youth or young adults, ages 16-25, as delegates to conference events. The initial plan was to have delegates vote on the inclusion of youth and young adult delegates at the Spring Summits. A slight detour had to be made to comply with conference structures when it was noted that this proposal would require an amendment to our by-laws. This added a slight complication, but plans were formed to leverage technology and the feedback provided at the Spring Summits to make this happen by e-vote.

In addition to amending the bylaws, MLT created a plan for equipping new and familiar delegates with what they need to represent their congregation and discern with the Holy Spirit together. Again, leveraging technology and feedback from the Spring Summits, MLT has created a FAQ page on the website, created introductory videos, and is working on a plan for mentorship opportunities for youth and young adult delegates. This will not only increase the number of eligible delegates per congregation but will increase our capacity for inter-congregational work. A plan is also in the works for making the purpose of conference gatherings more clear and the roles of these gatherings more intentionally connected to the big picture of what we do together.

Summer Fest, formerly known as Annual Sessions, was the first opportunity to put our newly amended bylaws into practice. Having youth and young adults present does require us to think a little more creatively and challenge our assumptions about what is known and not known. But MLT did not view this as a problem to be overcome but an opportunity to lean fully into the new thing that God has been doing among us.

When the theme verse of Isaiah 43:19 was chosen for the 2023-24 year, we did not know what it would mean for us. Honestly, it felt a little strange to have just one verse but there is just so much in this one verse for us to dig into and inspire us. These prophetic words seem to ring especially true these days: “Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it spouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.”

One challenge that long-lasting organizations like Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference faces is the ability to adapt and evolve over time. It can be easy to merely maintain the structures and systems that have served us well in the past. But the reality is that even though they may have served us well in the past, that doesn’t mean they always will. A common refrain in the Conference Office is, “We are not meant to serve our systems, our systems should serve us.” In other words, we want to ensure that our work serves the conference of today and of the future, not the conference of the past. We are grateful for the many things in our past who have brought us to where we are today and the best way to honor that past is to continue to discern what will help us continue as a community of congregations.

We are grateful for the ways in which we have seen God at work in and through us. The addition of youth and young adults to conference discernment and gatherings is just part of this way forward and we are excited for how we will hear from the Spirit through these new voices.