This past weekend I, along with a couple of other YAR writers, went to a campground outside South Bend, IN for a weekend of conversation, games and networking with about 50 other young ethnic Mennonites in their twenties. I decided to go to the gathering after reading about it in Katie Ho’s post a month ago. I figured it would be a good way to reconnect some small part of the Menno community after being out of the country for two and a half years. And in that regard, I wasn’t dissapointed. While there were a few old friends in attendance, there were also lots of new and interesting people to chat with, including the chance to meet a fellow YAR blogger for the first time in person (Brian Hamilton). There were thoughtful sessions by Ken Hawkley, former Mennonite Church USA young adult worker. The Bike Movement crew did a presentation about their trip, their conversations and their upcoming documentary. And Jason Shenk and Nicole Bauman led a discussion session on young adults and the Mennonite church as part of their new roles with AMIGOS. To balance the serious parts there was also Menno Run, a version of survival. With Anabaptist hunters instead of wolves and foxes and Anabaptist instead of rabbits and deer. All this with liberal doses of engaging conversations.
However, as I hinted in the opening sentence, there was one thing that was distinctly missing from the weekend. There was only one person of color among the sea of white faces playing the Mennonite game with each other. On Saturday afternoon a group of us chatted for an hour and a half about this and other concerns. We found out that the event was publicized largely by emailing previous participants and conference ministers. We wondered whether there might be other ways of reaching young adults who might be interested. Dave Landis shared his vision for a database of Mennonite young adults that could be used to organize events and facilitate communication. Others shared about their interest in a meet up style tool that would allow them to find others in their area who might be interested in gathering for bible studies or Dutch blitz games. We also talked about ways of deliberately building such a network in a way that included people not represented at the gathering. Jason S described his view of the difference between tokenism and genuine partnership. Moriah Hurst shared about her experience with a network of Anabaptists in Australia and her enthusiasm for non-Internet based relationship building. We asked whether we could build a network around nodes rather than a centralize system. We discussed the differences between calling such a network “Anabaptist” or “Mennonite”. We all felt lots of interest and enthusiasm. Lora volunteered to put time into the idea in the future if there was ongoing interest and discussion.
Another theme in this smaller discussion was Mennonites and power. During a large group session I suggested that in discussions between Mennonite leaders and young adults, the differences in power needed to be named more explicitly. I suggested Mennonites are especially vulnerable to this because we don’t like to admit we have power. This led into a discussion in the small group of some of the specifics of the relationships between young adults and older adults, especially church leaders. One Bike movement participant told of a pastor in a church where they visited suggesting that having children was the solution to integrating young adults into the church. Are young adults seen as a passing phase to be managed until we blossom into child-bearing adults? Are they seen as a constituency to be programmed for or as a resource for new energy, vision and ideas for changing the church and adapting to cultural shifts? How can we build intergenerational connections that don’t define us only by our age bracket? We also discuss some of the other factors that affect power dynamics in a relationship besides age and how to navagate them (esp. as white males).
That’s enough from me for now. Any of you other YAR folks out there want to chip in?