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Gather ’Round cosponsors conference on children and youth
Mennonite Church Canada/MennoMedia joint release
WASHINGTON, D.C. — An innovative conference on children and youth ministry, held in early May in Washington, D.C., drew well over 400 people from Canada, the U.S. and several other countries including Australia.
Mennonite Church Canada sponsored lodging for 10 Mennonite church representatives from Canada to promote the event as well as to encourage and support the connections between those who advocate for children.
Canadians played an important role in the gathering. Founder and chief planner of the event, Dave Csinos, a Mennonite doctoral student at University of Toronto, summarized the conference’s purpose: “Whatever our faith tradition, wherever we live, we are united in shared convictions that the vitality of the church depends on children and youth. Young people are dear to God’s heart.” Csinos’s research focuses on intercultural ministry with children.
Elsie Rempel, Mennonite Church Canada’s formation consultant led a workshop entitled “Prayer Journeys with Children.” Rempel found the conference inspirational and appreciated the opportunity to connect with others in her area of ministry. “Those of us who advocate for children as part of the worshiping, serving, learning community are scattered sparsely across the church, like strong seasoning, and can feel lonely in our ministry.”
Conference worship sessions were co-led by Bryan Moyer Suderman, a Mennonite musician and composer from Stouffville, Ontario who has frequently shared his music at Mennonite Church Canada gatherings.
Speakers included Brian McLaren, John Westerhoff III, Almeda Wright, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Ivy Beckwith, and 53 other influential leaders in Christian formation.
“We induct kids into a form of Christian faith that no longer works for increasing numbers of adults,” said Brian McLaren in his keynote address. “We need to figure out why people drop out [of church] and how we can change to help them stay.” McLaren said evangelicals as well as most protestant mainline denominations were losing youth at a very large rate—with only around 20 percent staying in the church.
Mennonite/Brethren leaders who spoke at the conference included Gather ‘Round staff members Anna Speicher and Rose Stutzman, who led a workshop entitled, “Sunday School That Doesn’t Have All the Answers,” and Rebecca Seiling and Amy Gingerich of MennoMedia who presented a plenary panel on teaching peacemaking to children.
Gather ’Round, the Sunday school curriculum co-published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia, cosponsored the conference. Between 45 and 50 Mennonite and Church of the Brethren pastors, youth leaders, and Christian education and curriculum specialists attended the various panels, presentations, and workshops.
Shane Claiborne, author and founding partner of The Simple Way community, noted, “We will not lose our youth because we have entertained them too much, but because we haven't challenged them enough and trusted them with the gospel.”
MennoMedia is the publishing ministry of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.