The following statement was drafted and presented at the San Jose 2007 Convention in response to an invitation from MC USA Executive Leadership for feedback from BikeMovement and associated conversations regarding young adult visions for the Mennonite church:
Young adults have been called the future of the church. We come before you today to say that the future has already begun.
We come from varied walks of life. Some of us went to Mennonite colleges, some of us did not. Some of us are connected to our home congregations, and others are finding it hard to connect to any congregation. We have built relationships that transcend geography. We are using the new medium of the Internet – including sites like the Young Anabaptist Radicals blog and the Anabaptist Network on Facebook – as forums for conversation, debate, and community. We are seekers in our faith and full of complex questions.
We have experienced a shift in the way the church listens for our voices. We have been offered space to converse with the church community. A clear example of this is the number of Young Adult delegates sitting on the floor today. As one young delegate said, “As soon as I open my mouth, the attention of the table is on what I have to say.” Space has been given here at San Jose for conversations with Executive Leadership. BikeMovement created opportunity for conversations with congregations and with conference leadership. Our request for space for our voices has been heard, and we thank you for hearing us.
Many of you have been participants in these conversations and have heard for yourself our questions and comments. The nature of our diversity does not lend itself to a unified voice. Many of the young adults participating in these conversations come from the context of a middle class, white, and Mennonite college-educated perspective. We lament the fact that it has been difficult to represent the true diversity of young people within the Mennonite Church. In light of this acknowledgment, these are some of the themes we have heard:
1. We are thankful for the leadership we have been given and want more ways to get involved in the church, both in local congregations and at broader organizational levels.
2. We are grateful for the opportunities we have had to learn from the global Anabaptist movement and desire to share these experiences and relationships with those who have not had this privilege.
3. Social justice and a visible, active witness for peace are integral to our faith.
4. We desire the church community to be a place where we can grapple with complex questions, realities, and issues without preconceived outcomes.
5. We desire an attitude of openness and hospitality across age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.
6. We struggle with the tension between opportunities that take us outside our local congregations and our desire for continued connection and relationship with the church.
7. We seek community that deliberately includes those on the margins of the traditional Mennonite culture.
8. We want a church that practices its beliefs with consistency and integrity.
In response to our conversations, we challenge you, our delegates and your representative congregations, to:
* Continue to walk with us and mentor us as we work through questions that may be uncomfortable for you. They are often uncomfortable for us. Let’s learn together.
* Continue to encourage us to take leadership roles; many of us yearn to be involved, but lack the courage to call ourselves forward. Help us recognize and utilize our God-given gifts and talents.
Let us use our skills and perspectives to help the church call our peers into fellowship.
In the listening that we have done, we acknowledge that young adults do not have a unified vision for the future of the church; this is a testament to the current state of the church. We sense that the Mennonite Church currently does not have a shared theological vision as many individuals, congregations, conferences, and organizations have varied definitions of our shared Mennonite identity.
So we leave with you these questions: How do we live, worship, and continue to cultivate this community of believers in the midst of, or even in spite of, these differences? What shared practices will keep us in relationship with each other as we walk forward as a complex and ever-changing church community?
We have developed this statement as a response to formal and informal conversations among young adults that took place through BikeMovement, the Young Adult Fellowship Retreat, the Church of Our Dreams conference at Hesston College, at Mennonite colleges and churches, and at events at Charlotte 2005 and San Jose 2007.
Presented on Friday, July 6, 2007