By Randy Keeler
During the 2014-2015 academic year I had the privilege of spending my sabbatical year as youth ministry resource person for the Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA. Besides serving as a resource to congregations in specific situations when called upon, I also planned six workshops for youth workers in different locations around the state in an attempt to make them accessible to all the constituent churches.
An especially valuable experience for me was meeting with 49 pastors and sometimes other youth leaders of the 73 churches in the Conference to hear more about their respective youth ministries and to gain information as to how they were attempting to live out an Anabaptist youth ministry approach in their specific locations.
At the beginning of my work, Tom Kauffman and I agreed that it would be helpful to pull together an advisory group from the Conference to help me focus my work in areas that might be most helpful. The group consisted of Heather Miller from Orrville Mennonite, Andrew Michaels from Camp Luz, Craig Strasbaugh from Kidron Mennonite, and Alex Dye from Oak Grove Mennonite (West Liberty). It was agreed that an area of resourcing missing in the Conference was some basic youth ministry training for lay workers. This agreement spawned the planning of six area workshops geared specifically for these lay workers. The basic theme of these workshops was an attempt to help the participants think through why they do what they do in youth ministry, and to consider whether what they do is consistent with an Anabaptist approach to youth ministry, making them unique to other ministries in their communities.
Entering into this work as a resource for youth ministry within the Ohio Conference, I was hoping to have more interaction with congregations in the Conference who were looking for help in their youth ministries. I believe the one-on-one consultations with the pastors were helpful in two ways: I was able to ascertain the status of youth ministry in the Ohio Conference, and the discussions encouraged pastors to be thinking about specific areas of their youth ministry as it relates to an Anabaptist approach making it distinctive from other churches in their area. The workshops held in the various regions of the Conference allowed me the opportunity to interact with youth sponsors and hear some of their joys and struggles in working with youth.
I was expecting to be called on more to assist with individual congregations needing help in re-thinking their approach to youth ministry. This area of work never developed to the level which I had hoped. I was involved in some individual consultation with congregations, but I anticipated being much busier in this area. Since I am continuing as a youth ministry advocate for the Conference, I am still available to congregations who may have specific questions or would like help in being led through a process to determine a new or revised approach to their youth ministry. The end of this sabbatical year does not signal an end to my availability for resourcing for congregations. My work at the university allows for this kind of involvement, and it actually helps to enrich my teaching as I continue to interact with those who are on the ground doing the day in and day out of ministry with youth.
Thank you for the opportunity to be involved with you this past year in a more intentional and deliberate way. I have been enriched and am better for it having occurred and hope that the feeling is reciprocal.