(April 18, 2007) — How do you inject new life and energy into telling a 300-year-old-story? How do you put a forward-looking emphasis on the study of Brethren history and heritage?
Why not invite youth to tell the story? That’s what the Annual Conference 300th Anniversary Committee, in partnership with the General Board’s Youth/Young Adult Ministry office, decided to do. Each district was asked to nominate two youth who would come to Elgin, Ill., for an intensive weekend of Youth Heritage Teams training. Twenty-one of the 23 districts accepted that invitation, and on April 13-15 that original vision of the anniversary organizers finally became reality.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have a group of youth steeped in Brethren history and able to go out and share their passion?’ ” said anniversary committee member Rhonda Gingrich, addressing the 42 youth Friday evening before leading get-acquainted activities. Youth/Young Adult Ministry director Chris Douglas noted that the event was the fruit of two-and-a-half years of planning.
The energetic group that came together was a microcosm of the church itself, representing a great deal of diversity in geographic areas, gender, and ethnic backgrounds. They came together quickly, though, and a rich spirit filled the weekend.
Highlights of the training included presentations on Brethren history and theology by author Jim Lehman and Bethany Theological Seminary faculty member Jeff Bach; music leadership by anniversary committee member Leslie Lake; workshops on drama, storytelling, music, and public presentation; and several periods of worship, including feetwashing.
Each youth also composed a one-minute speech that he or she delivered in front of a video camera. Small groups then reviewed the videos, offering ideas and suggestions to each other with abundant affirmation of each youth’s particular gifts.
Youth will be employing their learnings as they return to their respective districts. The two-person teams will do Brethren heritage presentations at congregations and other district events as they are invited in the coming year.
“We prepare now to send each of you out as new seeds,” Lake told the group during one of the worship times. “Tell the church of today who we were, who we are, and who we yet will be.”
–This report came from Chris Douglas, director of the General Board’s Youth and Young Adult Ministries, and Walt Wiltschek, editor of the Church of the Brethren “Messenger” magazine.