Last Post! MHSC: Youth & Generation

I’ve just now realized that I’d neglected to take a photo of the people doing the Q&A in this session. I think my mind was getting quite full and I seem to have blanked out. My apologies!

So, the fourth session from the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada’s conference at the U of W, was entitled Youth & Generation. Here are my notes… which may not make much sense at all. Ideas flowed into each other a little bit quickly and I was scrambling.

Gil Dueck’s paper was Conceptualizing the Millennial: Questions of Theology and Identity. The transition from villager to city-dweller… the story of leaving home is the Mennonite story. The city acts as a solvent, dissolving everything… the village held simple tradition and a web of belief, ethics were evident… but in the city, there are many alternate ways to live, and no language is truer than the other. The city is a symbol for adulthood. We’re hemmeraging faith… why are people checking out of church? A chasm between beliefs vs practices… is it a place where questions can be asked. Personal experience vs theology. Primal chaos. This limbo is a function of affluence. There is a need to send out identity markers in your community of origin. In the Q&A, Gil mentioned that there is a real sense of individual journey among millennials… but also anxiety, a need for certainty.

Barb Draper spoke on Ontario Plain People’s Youth: Growth and Diversification. She compared her life with her brother’s granddaughter, Janessa. A fascinating photo compared weddings back then, with weddings today (see feature photo)… and the hemlines have dropped quite a lot — from knees back in the day, to ankle-length hems today! She showed photos of stores owned by single Old Order Mennonite women; cafes, quilt and book shops… I’d love to visit these! Barb noted that she went to public school, but Janessa went to a small private school. These days, Old Order maintains more young people than any other group, and they don’t appear to chafe at the rules at all. This is remarkable! It was suggested that perhaps the small private schools is the reason for this. Of course with the internet and cell phones these days, new issues arise, but thus far they only use the internet to promote business, and therefore keep business hours with the internet — it’s not for recreation.

Instead of the internet and websites, they create ‘zines. These are recent publications!

Something else that’s interesting to me is that Old Order houses are much bigger now than they used to be — big enough for FOUR generations! I’m imagining how safe and secure that must make them feel — very connected.

Peter Epp’s paper was called It’s Like Dating Around: Mennonite Young Adults, Baptism and the Church. This was fascinating on a whole new level. He began by listing the reasons young adults give for being hesitant about baptism: hestitant to put myself out there / not ready to commit / it’s bigger than marriage / it’s not convenient right now / still not sure about it / it’d be a lie / it’s important, so I need to get it right / it takes a lot of thought / you can’t just jump into it / I don’t have the right lifestyle. (Aside: WOW, these young adults are putting WAY more thought into this than I ever did in the 90’s!) They’re super-concerned about insincere baptism, they’re afraid of being inauthentic. So, they first need to be 100% certain of their beliefs, and where they will ultimately attend church for the rest of their lives… and now is not a good time for that. They sense conflict and tension within congregations, which makes them reluctant to join. They wanna explore their options so they make the right committments. Also, they don’t want others to define them. Also, they are not ready to “repent from partying”. Others say, “I’m not exactly sure what I’m committing to.” Still others suggest they’re struggling to find community at church, citing social dysfunction. Social isolation within church contexts. Also, stuff like the fact that during sharing time, many people are on anti-depressants but nobody’s sharing about that; not open. Ultimately… what does it mean to be “The Church”. Right?

Hey, thanks to those of you that stuck around to read my possibly non-sensical notes. I love, love, LOVE attending the conference put on by the Chair of Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg — I mark my calendar every year! Hopefully next year I can better plan out my holidays so that I can attend Friday’s sessions as well.