Youth leaders gather, explore issues of racism

Felipe Hinojosa, assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, presents at the Youth Ministry Council 2015 gathering at Spruce Lake Retreat Center in Canadensis, Pennsylvania, April 19-22. (Photo by Rachel Springer Gerber)
Felipe Hinojosa, assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, presents at the Youth Ministry Council 2015 gathering at Spruce Lake Retreat Center in Canadensis, Pennsylvania, April 19-22. (Photo by Rachel Springer Gerber)

(Mennonite Church USA)—The 2015 Youth Ministry Council (YMC) gathering drew 45 youth pastors, leaders and sponsors — representing 10 Mennonite Church USA area conferences — for a time of work and worship at Spruce Lake Retreat Center in Canadensis, Pennsylvania, April 19-22. The event’s theme was “Connecting our Stories: Imagining our Future.”

“Youth Ministry Council is a gathering that allows youth leaders of all stripes to come together to talk about current developments in youth ministry, changes in our culture and more,” said Rachel Springer Gerber, denominational minister of youth and young adults for Mennonite Church USA. “It’s a time to network with one another about best practices and be resourced together.”

Keynote speaker Felipe Hinojosa, assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, drew on stories and examples from his book, Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith and Evangelical Culture. He invited YMC participants to explore the stories and experiences that have shaped their understandings of race and challenged them to note ways in which racism has and still does function within congregations and the denomination.

“How are you talking — or not talking — about things shaping our culture like Ferguson, the U.S.-Mexico border, demographic changes and social media?” said Hinojosa. “Each of our stories is powerful. We need to keep telling these stories and learning how to re-frame them to provide hope for the future and to get past the paralysis that history can sometimes bring us to.”

The group also participated in several conversations in which individuals could present pressing topics for discussion. Topics included how busyness is changing the face of youth ministry, racism and other forms of oppression, and the ways culture impacts the church.

Gerber presented a resource that is currently being developed for Anabaptist youth workers — a website called The Gathering Place. The site, which will launch at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City this summer, will serve as an online networking and resourcing site. It will include monthly study groups, chances to connect with spiritual directors, and spaces for youth pastors and lay leaders to join cohort groups and receive coaching for their ministry.

Participants spent time in worship, led by Danilo Sanchez, youth pastor at Ripple Allentown in Pennsylvania. During closing worship, participants anointed one another’s hands and read this commission from St. Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.”

For Gerber, the anointing service was a concrete way of empowering youth leaders to apply their learnings in their own congregations and contexts.

“We don’t want to just let these ideas rest and remain here, but we want people to go and actually put these things that we’ve learned into practice,” she said.

The next Youth Ministry Council gathering will take place Jan. 29–31, 2016, in Orlando, Florida.

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—Mennonite Church USA staff

Image available:

Felipe Hinojosa, assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, presents at the Youth Ministry Council 2015 gathering at Spruce Lake Retreat Center in Canadensis, Pennsylvania, April 19-22. (Photo by Rachel Springer Gerber)

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One thought on “Youth leaders gather, explore issues of racism

  1. As the mother of a 18 year old son who is still in high school, and a 22 year old daughter, both of whom who are deeply passionate about social justice issues, including LBTGQ equality, to have these issues directly addressed by their youth leaders we as a family know is hugely important to their growth as true, daily followers of Jesus, so I hope that the challenges issued at this conference are deeply taken to heart by those who attended.

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