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Spiritual abundance in spite of low registrations

   

September 4, 2009
- by Dan Dyck, with files from Deborah Froese

Winnipeg, Man. — The spiritual experience was a high, even though registration numbers were low for the 2009 Mennonite Church Canada Youth Assembly in Caronport, Sask. (July 6-10). Almost 200 youth and youth sponsors attended – down by about 50%; youth assemblies in past years have generated an average of about 400 registrations.

Anna Rehan, Youth Ministry Facilitator for Mennonite Church Canada, noted that the “Living Inside Out” theme based on Colossians 3:4-17 provided a spiritually rich backdrop against which youth deeply considered their personal choices and faith lives. Keynote speakers and workshop presenters generously applied the theme to give youth handles on their faith journeys.

The responses from youth back up her impression.

“It’s how I want to live my life,” said Meredith Reesor, 17, of Ont. in response to keynote speaker Shane Claiborne after a worship time. Claiborne illustrated his message about showing love to disadvantaged persons with a video clip of a trembling, shell-shocked young boy in a war zone. The boy is visibly soothed by the touch of a nun.

Youth Pastor Derek Funk (First Mennonite Church, Wpg.) said, “I saw our group [of youth] grow and change in ways I’d never seen before in my three years at our church.”

Responses like these suggest to Rehan that MC Canada’s primary goal of a Youth Assembly (the strengthening of youths’ commitment to Jesus Christ) was broadly met – in spite of the lower than usual attendance.

Planners shaped their budget around average attendance from previous Youth Assemblies. Though the attendance was low, it also meant that meal and lodging costs were less than anticipated. The event still managed to generate a small surplus said Dave Bergen, Executive Secretary of MC Canada’s Formation program – though not enough to bridge finance advance planning costs for the next youth assembly in 2011.

Rehan speculated on reasons for lower than usual registration: This was the first time that the Youth Assembly was not held at the same a time as the Adult Delegate Assembly. “A certain excitement happens in the fundraising when adults and youth are attending the same event,” she said. She noted that families who attended Mennonite World Conference – also a good experience – may not have been able to afford to send youth to Caronport.

Nonetheless, Rehan views the event as a smashing success. “An adult told me that she had come empty and was leaving full.”

Rehan emphasized that her group of planners put a lot of effort into programming the event in a way that would provide plenty of “get to know you” time. Alyssa Hildebrand of Man. said, “Our youth group is really small so it’s really cool to meet with a bunch of youth who are interested in the same stuff.”

Youth comments gleaned from evaluation forms revealed other important experiences. “…my faith was realized, challenged, and expanded,” shared one participant, while another wrote, “I experienced the light of God.”

“I believe the goals of this Youth Assembly were met, even if the attendance goals were not,” said Rehan. She invites congregations to make a gift to MC Canada for future youth assemblies, and to encourage their youth to attend. “This will be important as we start to think about Youth Assembly 2011.”