Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Young adults hoped to bridge convention age gap, with support from college


A version of this article was published July 3, 2007 in mPress the official daily newspaper of the San José 2007 convention of Mennonite Church USA.



GC speakers at San Jose 2007

Youth worship speakers:

Photo by mPress John D. Roth,
Professor of History at GC
Tuesday, July 3, 2007.

>> Read the mPress report

Photo by mPress James E. Brenneman,
Goshen College President
Thursday, July 5, 2007.

>> Read the mPress report

GOSHEN, Ind. – Beyond singing hymn number 118 (better known as “606”), discussing some of Menno’s stranger stances and seeking alternatives to name hyphenating in the hopes of protecting future generations of Yoder-Graber-Miller-Roths, young Mennonite adults are defining their place in the church as more and more 19- to 30-year-olds join in official church decision-making. Ten such young adults were able to act as delegates at the biennial Mennonite Church USA convention in San Jose, Calif., (July 2-6) thanks, in part, to the support and encouragement of their college or alma mater.


Responding to a broader call from Mennonite Church USA to develop Mennonite leaders, Goshen College set aside several thousand dollars to send three current students, four 2007 graduates and three recent alums to San Jose 2007, requiring only that they participate in the delegations — registering themselves with Young Adult Delegate to Assembly (YODA) — and spend an hour or two at the Goshen College booth.


YODA is an initiative that began in 2003 to provide orientation to first-time young adult delegates. Led by pastors Dave Maurer of Bluffton, Ohio, and Amy Nissley of Mountain Lake, Minn., YODA provides meetings and gatherings for young adults to ask questions about the delegation process, meet each other and learn from other church members.


Nissley, a youth minister, notes “a healthy increase” in young adult involvement. She said, “In Charlotte we had about 30 YODAs. This time we have 43.”


Goshen College had high hopes for the 10 first-time delegates it provided support to, according to Bob Yoder, campus minister at GC who helped seek out the delegates. “We hope that our students and recent alums will take a greater ownership in Mennonite Church USA and want to be part of the church in these leadership ways,” said Yoder. “The other hope is that students walk away knowing that we as a college are strong supporters of this church.”


Matt Troyer, a delegate from Shickley, Neb., graduated in 2005 from Goshen College. Like Yoder, Troyer sees the value of young adult leadership. He believes “it’s important for young adults to feel like they belong to the church. And to belong, you need to participate.”


Since he was 18, Neal Friesen, a 2007 Goshen College graduate from Henderson, Neb., has been participating as a regional delegate for the conference he and Troyer both represented, Central Plains Mennonite Conference (CPMC).


To both Friesen and Troyer, one important role for young adults is to act as a bridge between the Mennonite generations.


There’s a big 50-plus group, and a token youth delegate from each congregation that can find one, and very few of us in between,” Friesen said. “We need those people in between, gleaning wisdom from that older crowd, as well as keeping the church as a whole relevant to changing times.”


It’s important to create opportunities for the different generations to interact with each other,” Troyer said. “So we are rubbing shoulders with adults and many of them have experienced similar things, and have asked similar questions about identity and belonging that many young adults ask.”


Goshen College sophomore Hillary Watson, from Seattle, Wash., was another delegate. She acknowledged that the church can learn from her age group as well. “Young adults must be involved in the church because we are more than the future of the church,” she said. “We are a population with a unique perspective and we are invested in bringing the Kingdom. We must find ways to share our vision of the Kingdom.”


Many of the young adult delegates found encouragement to share what they could from their home congregations or conferences when those also offered financial support. This was the case for Troyer. He said, “I had been hoping to go, but didn’t figure I’d be able to afford it unless I received some funding.” Then both his conference and his alma mater approached him offering funds.


Watson was glad to have the church where she is interning with the Ministry Inquiry Program, Salem Mennonite Church, cover the rest of her expenses, but she said, “I would have found a way to come without the money, because … I decided there was no way I would miss this beautiful, diverse, massive meeting of people who hold something very deep and very dear in common.”


Nissley, a YODA leader, had hopes for all the young adults that are participating. “We hope that through the YODA program we are creating a place for young adults to connect with their peers, but also to connect with others who also love the church,” she said.


“I think as a larger church we have a responsibility to tend and nurture those who will lead us in the future. By making sure that young adults have a place at the table, we begin those conversations early, building relationships and planting seeds that will serve us well,” said Nissley.


“I do think this is significant for an institution to do this. There are 10 young adults saying ‘I want to be part of the church.’ And that’s exciting,” Yoder said. “I’m glad that in our own meager way, we can help support that movement in young people wanting to be part of the church and to take ownership of the church and be leaders in the church.”


The 10 people Goshen College helped to support attend San Jose as delegates were:



  • Krista Ehst a junior from Bally, Pa., was a delegate for Perkasie Mennonite Church.
  • Hillary Watson, a sophomore from Seattle, Wash., represented Salem Mennonite Church, where she is serving with the Ministry Inquiry Program.
  • Randy Keener, a junior from Lebanon, Pa., was a delegate for Gingrich Mennonite Church.


  • Neal Friesen is from Henderson Neb., and was a delegate for Central Plains Conference.
  • Bethany Wright is from Riverside, Calif., and was a delegate for the Pacific Southwest Conference.
  • Kristine Bowman is from Millersburg, Ind., and was a delegate for Waterford Mennonite Church
  • Anna Yoder is from Goshen, Ind., and was a delegate for Central District Conference.


  • Matt Troyer, a 2005 graduate from Shickley, Neb., was a delegate for Central Plains Conference.
  • Kent Yoder, a 2002 graduate from Goshen, Ind., was representing Assembly Mennonite Church.
  • M. Elizabeth Miller, a 2006 graduate from State College, Pa., was representing University Mennonite Church.

– by Kelli Yoder

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or




Goshen College, established in 1894, is a residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit

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