Canadian Mennonite
Volume 11, No. 02
January 22, 2007


Nurturing restless passions

What our church will be about when the current baby boom generation passes away will be strongly affected by the passions of those who are just now graduating from Mennonite Youth Fellowship groups. In fact, our churches identify the role of, and ministry to, youths and young adults as their overall No. 1 concern, according to what general secretary Robert J. Suderman heard in his visits.

At an MC Eastern Canada event on the topic held in mid-January (a report will come in a future issue), Ed Janzen, Conrad Grebel University College’s chaplain, described the broad characteristics of the next generation.

Using research from William Strauss and Neil Howe, Janzen described this coming millennial generation (born from 1984 to 2003) as the “baby on board” generation (referring to the signs proud and protective parents put up in car windows).

This was a specially chosen generation (born by decision rather than chance); sheltered; confident and skilful (coming from a childhood full of church, sports, arts and social activities specially planned for them); team-oriented; and play-by-the-rules sorts of people. Technology and environmental issues are key. Having choices and diversity is expected as normal, something that is both an opportunity and a source of stress. Millennials have had the travel, the mission and service trips, and the educational opportunities that their parents wished they could have had when they were young.

They are also a pressured generation, with high fears of failure and a burden of heavy expectations. Growing up in a country with falling birth rates, the generation is much smaller than those before it. Millennials mostly come from small families and need to carry the expectations of the much more numerous boomers on many fewer shoulders.

Five young adults on a panel at the event reflected these trends in their own lives: benefits from church schools, camps and programs like Bible quizzing, and the opportunities of travel and education, but also loneliness, lack of stability, the search for a truly meaningful life, and the burden of debt from more years of education than their parents had.

“A lot of young adults have trouble finding where they are connected. Where do we fit when you spend a year here and a year there?” asked Leah Reesor. “I changed and then found I didn’t fit. People thought they knew who I was and I had to teach them I wasn’t the same person as when I left,” said Mary Anne Cressman after coming back from a year of mission service in Lithuania.

There was gratitude for authentic relationships with people in their home congregations. “On one hand, it is the one-on-one fellowship in the church; the other part are the values of what it means to be Mennonite. You don’t know what you have until you go somewhere else,” said Barrett Cressman.

We need to keep listening to what our young adults are saying and working at relationships that span the generations. The eight articles in our ongoing “Young Prophets” series we published last year are a part of that effort. After all, young adults are part of the church already, and their role will only grow.

“Each generation is called upon to contribute its work to the life of the church. If they don’t, the church fragments. It may not be the very same work that we were called to do in our respective generations, but perhaps we are called to understand the work they are called to do,” said Janzen.

—Tim Miller Dyck

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