The generational handoffBy Stephen Kriss
Speaking with Franconia Conference interns this summer, historian John Ruth wove diverse strands of experience into the Mennonite tapestry.
In a touching moment, Ruth shared his story of being chosen by lot and ordained at the age of 20 to serve in the mission field of Conshohocken, Pa.
That’s not a very foreign place to those of us who live near Philadelphia. But it’s still as unfamiliar to many Mennonite locals as places that would require a passport to visit.
Telling this story, the gravity of the experience still weighs on Ruth. It brings him near to tears as he tells of this calling by the community that nurtured him, pulled him out of life as a student at Eastern Mennonite College and thrust him into a leadership role in a new context.
And the bishop who ordained him was only 25.
This story suggests a level of commitment and loyalty in early adulthood almost unimaginable to me now. But it also indicates a spirit of trust and expectation from the church that doesn’t seem to exist today.
I’m struck by how, in Ruth’s story, the church was led by twenty-somethings, in both traditional centers and on the margin.
Maybe the selection by lot offered possibilities for young leaders that we’d never have the courage to undertake in these days of more systematic discernment.
Today, churches and faith-rooted institutions seem reluctant to select young leaders and offer them real responsibilities.
We want more experience and evidence of willingness to settle down. So we have a stalemate: Young people don’t offer themselves as leaders because they’re not convinced their energy and vision is welcome. Established leaders keep their distance because they are unsure of the direction the next generation might take us.
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