May Webinar: Attach with Sticky Paper?

This month, The Gathering Place hosts Sarah Bixler as she presents

“Youth Attachment to God and the Church:

Should the Church Act Like Fly Paper?”

Wednesday, May 17, 1pm EDT

Some congregations hope their youth ministers will transform them into fly paper: get their youth to stick to the church (preferably, their congregation) and not disappear into thin air after high school. But is the fly-paper model the best one for nurturing a lifelong commitment to Christ in the Anabaptist tradition? In this webinar, Sarah Ann Bixler, PhD student at Princeton Seminary will present that attachment theory provides another lens for considering how adolescents attach to congregations, which comes in all forms: avoidant, ambivalent, disorganized and secure attachment. And recent brain research provides more insights when it comes to adolescents’ attachment. This webinar explores how congregations can nurture ideal attachment for adolescents in their care that ultimately leads to their attachment to God in Christ. Sign up today!


Sarah Ann Bixler is a PhD student in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, focusing on Christian education and formation. A former youth minister at Zion Mennonite Church (Broadway, VA), Sarah has also worked as a middle school teacher, youth curriculum writer, conference youth minister, conference administrator and residence director. She currently resides in Princeton, NJ with her husband, Benjamin Bixler, and their three children. They attend Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia.

May Study Circle–Sticky Faith: Build A Lasting Faith in Teens





Shana Peachey Boshart will be hosting this month’s study circle on “Sticky Faith.” Kara Powell and Chap Clark’s research points to practical ways parents and church leaders can nurture in teens a faith that “sticks.” Join the conversation to share practices that work or how these books have impacted your ministry. Sign up today to join this conversation on Tuesday, May 16 at 3:30 EDT/2:30 CDT.

God is love

2016-9-14-abby-kingAbby King is a first-year at Goshen College, studying journalism with a minor in Bible and Religion. She is a part of the Youth Worship Planning Committee for Orlando 2017, and will be preforming as part of the sermon/drama for one evening of convention worship. She is a member at Ridgeview Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This post originally appeared on the Mennonite Church USA convention blog.

When I was in middle school I had a phenomenal math teacher. He was the type of teacher that not only made math comprehensible, but he also cared about whether or not his students were good people. My Algebra 1 class was constantly interrupted by devotions, allegorical books and YouTube videos.

I specifically remember one video he showed us. It was a stop motion music video for The Michael Gungor Band’s song, White Man. The beginning of the song focuses on who God is not, “God is not a man, God is not a white man … God does not belong to Republicans … God is not even American.” The chorus then declares who God is: love, “God is love and He loves everyone.” And then the bridge lists who everyone entails: “Atheists and charlatans and communists and lesbians…” and the list goes on.

That music video was a turning point in my life. I began to identify God as love. My prayers began with “Dear Love,” instead of “Dear God.” I began to understand that when we love each other, we are loving each other in the name of God.

There’s something incredibly liberating about identifying God as Love. No longer is God a large deity in the sky, but this loving, comforting being who wants to get to know you and hold you in times of trouble.

When the worship planning committee for convention met up in February we all agreed that before we could declare that love is a verb, we had to establish what love is, or better yet, who love is.

If we don’t identify God as love, then we don’t understand what Christianity is truly about. First John 4 says “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” This verse is the purpose of the Christianity — love  everyone in the name of Jesus Christ. In one sentence, our whole existence as Christ-followers is summed up. If we, as Christians, don’t love wholeheartedly then we’re doing something wrong.

My hope for Orlando 2017 is that we can focus on the important parts of what it means to be a Mennonite – loving each other and bringing peace into this world of hate.

It’s not the rules or the potlucks or the hymns that define our denomination, but it’s the peace we spread, the love we share and the service we provide.

And I think next summer’s convention might just be all that I have hoped. Through the leadership of the planning committee — a group of people wholeheartedly dedicated to loving our broken church — I’m positive that many will leave with a different perspective of what love looks like and who Love is.

I encourage you to refer to God as Love, if you haven’t before. Embrace the knowledge that God is love and God loves everyone. And so should we.

Webinar: The Inside Scoop for Orlando ’17

I had a great time talking with the convention staff for Orlando ’17!  In this webinar, you will discover what new components to expect at convention this year, info on the special YOUTH SPONSOR/PASTOR resource afternoon, best travel tips, ideas on how to get your youth group to bond, and much more…

If you aren’t registered for Orlando, do it today! Registration ends April 30.

Love is a Verb … is accessible!

This article is a reprint of the February 9, 2017 post on Mennonite Church USA blog.


We are expanding access to accessibility services at Orlando for persons touched by disabilities.

Anabaptist Disabilities Network has been asked to help make this year’s Mennonite Church USA convention more accessible to people with disabilities. Many accessibility services have already been available at previous conventions, but this year our intent is to make accessing those needed services easier than ever and we will offer additional services too.

We are working with convention planners to facilitate increased access to Disabilities Accessibility Services at Orlando such as:

  • American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation

  • Hearing assistance devices

  • Motorized scooters or chairs (rental fee not included)

  • Large print resources, as requested (New)

  • Songs, speaker presentation notes, seminar hand-outs, etc.

  • Large maps showing accessible restrooms & elevators (New)

  • Special quiet spaces or room for various uses

  • Daily assistance with purchasing meals from vendors (New)

    Instead of going to a dining hall for meals, convention attendees will be able to purchase their meals from food vendors who will be scattered throughout the exhibit hall.

  • Help for those with vision or mobility disabilities to get from place to place, purchase meals, or find seminar locations

  • Be available to listen to concerns, and in consultation with ADN and convention planners, form an advocacy plan when appropriate

The accessibility coordinator and volunteers will receive an identifying “Love is a Verb … is Accessible” vest to wear while on duty to assist people to access services.

To make this possible, ADN seeks:

1) a convention accessibility coordinator for Orlando

2) multiple volunteer assistants. Some registration and lodging discounts available; see the Mennonite Church USA convention site for details.

For more information, contact

A Word from A Convention Junkie

Orlando 2017 will be my 8th convention in a row. 16 years of my life that I’ve been participating in, serving at, or planning for a convention in some capacity. One doesn’t just do something for 16 years if it doesn’t mean a lot to them. The first two conventions that I participated in were incredibly pivotal experiences as a young person trying to navigate my personal faith walk. Powerful calls to action from speakers like Brenda Matthews, Jimmy Carter, Mike Yaconelli, and Toni Campolo, catapulted me into critical thinking about who I wanted to be as a Christian, and a servant of the Church.

Fast forward to San Jose in 2007, and I knew that I felt called to use my gifts to help make convention the same great experience for our youth that I found so beneficial to my formation. Technical Production Assistant, Social Media Manager, Res Life Staff (“go to bed kids!”), Assistant to the Children’s Ministry Director, and for the last two conventions, Technical Director. God has provided me great opportunities to pour back into this convention in a way that uses my gifts for great things! And I have no doubt that Orlando 2017 will be any different.

I may be biased, but I actually think this will be the best convention yet. Every year, the team who helps plan our worship services pours hours of prayer, discernment, discussion, group worship, laughter and hard work into seeking to meet our youth and sponsors where they’re at. This year’s theme of Love is a Verb could not be more applicable, right? How are we called to be the beacon of Love in a world so rocked by visible examples of hate? How are we called to be the Love that God calls us to be, to our family and friends, our neighbors and communities, our churches, or even (*gasp*) our enemies?

I’ve now been a part of two worship planning gatherings leading up to Orlando 2017, and the conversations we’ve had about this convention have been so uplifting. The hearts of those in the room during these sessions are keenly fixed on our theme. We’re motivated to spread love as servants of God. We’re energized to see our youth on fire for Christ and eager to get out into their circles to live a life of loving all those who need it most. We desire to see our adults eager to build up the next generation of the church through their abundant love and support. We are, so excited to come together in July and learn what it is to live out “Love is a Verb” and I can’t wait to see you there! Come say hi if you see me around.




Tim Blaum lives in Goshen, IN and works at River Oaks Community Church as Technical Director. He is a 2010 graduate of Goshen College and is serving as Technical Director for Youth Worship in Orlando 2017.

Step Up!

Have you heard the latest about an incredible leadership development program for youth this year at Convention?

Step Up Program

At this summer’s denominational convention in Orlando, we’re offering a fresh way to involve high school youth representatives into the delegate sessions. The goal of “Step Up” is to prepare and launch young people into future involvement as denominational delegates and church leaders who are involved with the broader church.


  1. To give high-school age youth a voice at the Future Church Summit as the denomination seeks to articulate a future vision and essential values for itself
  2. To prepare youth for future participation and leadership in the broader church


Who’s invited?

Each conference and constituency group is invited to nominate representatives who are already attending convention to participate in this program. Each conference will be asked to name three representatives: one male, one female and one person from a racial/ethnic group. Each constituency group should nominate two representatives to participate. Representatives should be regular attendees at a Mennonite Church USA congregation who are rising high school sophomores or older.

The program may be opened up to additional youth from these groups after the initial deadline depending on the response.

Note: Step Up representatives need not be appointed delegates by congregations, conferences or constituency groups


Participation options

Step Up representatives have two participation options from which to choose:

  • Full-time representatives will attend all four Future Church Summit sessions on Thursday and Friday and serve as full participants in the process. They will be part of the 30 percent of non-delegate participants seeking to answer the question, How will we follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century? Full-time representatives would also be encouraged to attend the opening and closing delegate sessions on Thursday and Saturday.
  • Part-time representatives will attend only the opening and closing delegate sessions on Thursday and Saturday. They will serve mainly as observers to the process and will be asked to provide insight and feedback for future denominational events. Register here.

Questions or suggestions regarding the Step Up program can be directed to Brook Musselman at

Deadline to register for Step Up: May 5

Both full- and part-time representatives will also be invited to attend an orientation seminar / supper on Wednesday afternoon, as well as a post-convention debrief that will take place over social media.

To read more about Step Up, check out these articles:

Tune My Heart Playlist–Convention Ready!

Just think! 3 more months until a week in sunny Orlando!

Taking part of a small part of the planning process for convention this year gives me this idea that convention is FINALLY approaching and I am so excited!! The theme for this year seems to bring us back to the common core of our faith: the Love of God shining through us. Having Easter this month as well is an awesome reminder that Jesus’ entire life was a verb of love. Everything he did was to show God’s love to the world.

As we gather this summer, I am excited to rest in the biblical reminder of love in action. The songs this month I chose as a preparation for each of our journeys to Orlando reflect on different bits of love and the different ways it can be shown. There may be some songs I’ve shared before, but BOY do their messages go hand in hand with this month’s theme. Reflecting on the love of God for us, personally AND intimately, puts us in a stable and peaceful state of mind, which in turn can rid us of anxiety and fear that can appear when big groups get together. (Especially those of us who are introverted and big groups of people in any form exhaust us). We all come from different upbringings, different struggles, different achievements, different incomes, etc. The fact that we can come together means there are TONS of different gifts of showing love in one place! I pray that as we start finalizing our travel plans for our youth groups that we take the time to mentally prepare ourselves to put love into action with those we treacle with and owe who have travelled to be in community with us.

P.S. Don’t forget to show yourself a bit of self-care love before AND after Convention because if you aren’t loving yourself first, it’s a lot harder to show others love!

Look Like Love by Britt Nicole

“It’s up to you and me to leave a legacy. If we’re all they ever see…”

This song was the inspiration for the curriculum I wrote for my high schoolers this year. If we are truly to have our lives buried in Christ, then we got to start from the bottom. Start radiating love to all we meet, because who knows if we are all they ever get to see.

You Put This Love in My Heart by Keith Green

“You gave me no time to choose”

God put that love in our hearts from the very beginning. The excuse we use that we don’t know how to show love to others can be a very thin argument. Plus, we have a great handbook telling us what it looks like.

You Are Loved by Stars Go Dim

“We all need a little honesty…if it hurts, but you can’t find healing…”

Our youth just want to be loved. They doubt that no one understands them and that no one can love them because of how often they mess up. Can’t we all feel like that at any age?! They need our love…just like the people they meet need some love too.

Love With Your Life by Hollyn

“Don’t look to the left or right – you know the future’s worth the fight”

We can’t compare ourselves to those around us…you have to look within and know that God has called us to fight for him! Only he doesn’t give us physical weapons to fight with…he gives us the power of his love!

Love Broke Thru by tobyMac

“You found me in the darkness…wanderin through the desert”

When God’s Love breaks through a bubble of hurt and brokenness, it is a beautiful thing! And honestly, choosing to step out of the familiar bubble is a whole other battle…but we have to leave room for Love to do its work and watch God show off His Kingdom to us.

Common Ground by Julianna Zobrist

“Is this a bridge worth dying on…a hill to crucify upon?…Our bitterness will never save us…we’ve got to find some common ground”

I’ll be honest, I would’ve never found this song on any charts if I weren’t a lifelong cubs fan ( #GoCubsGo ) PLUS her husband was from my hometown area of central IL. But after checking out her albums, I was inspired. Let’s be honest with each other: there have been some hurtful things said and done from all corners of our conference lately. But our bitterness won’t save us…we need to embody the theme for this year to EACH OTHER if we ever plan on pushing others to love all those around us. And I for one don’t like it when my youth call me out for falling short on sharing love with others, so I know that if we want to lead our youth, we’ve got to stop beating around the bush, and start loving each other first.

When I Pray For You by Dan + Shay

“It ain’t gunna be easy; it ain’t always gunna be fair”

I strive to pray for each of my youth & their parents every night…even though they aren’t my own kids. But God does the work in them before anything he gives me to share with them…so I pray that they remember to rely on God when things get hard…but this song cut straight to my heart when I first heard it. Loving our youth is different and not always fair…but God has called us to love them.

Because of Your Love by Chris Quilala

“Hallelujah, I’m forgiven”

There are times we forget to show love or it’s just too dang hard so we fall short. But thank the Lord, he gives second and seventy seventh chances…keep striving to give love no matter how long it takes!

Oh, Love That Will Not Let Me Go feat. Audrey Assad by Robbie Seay Band

“I cannot close my heart to thee”

When we’ve loved and then felt deep hurt, it’s easy to close our hearts to certain people because of one experience. This updated hymn is a good reminder for us all.

Real Love by Hillsong Young & Free

“Love beyond my control…this is real love”

He never lets go…his is REAL love. Our youth are looking to be loved, but until they are shown the REAL love of God, they won’t know what love is supposed to be. Luckily, we are given the opportunity and privilege to share it with them.

Live Like You’re Loved by Hawk Nelson

“you’re working way too hard…he loves you like you are…it’s okay to act like you’ve been set free”

We are already loved! We don’t have to earn that, so it’s okay to get giddy about that! I’m talking like giddier than when you’re in high school and you find out your crush likes you too! It’s okay to look like you were given laughing gas because the love God has for us is so overwhelming at times you can’t help but smile….and smiles are contagious!! My junior highers started singing along to this song the first time they heard this…so I feel like it’s a good one!

What Love Really Means by JJ Heller

“Who will love me for me…not for what I have done or what I will become”

Some people have never experienced Love like God’s…they are the ones who can sometimes be the most needy, but they sometimes need an extra dose because they are a parched soul…and when they get a taste of that life-giving water, they cannot stop thinking about wanting more!

Love Take Me Over by Stephan Curtis Chapman

“God, please take all of me and fill me up with your Love”

This is a great prayer to begin your day with!

Oh How I Love Jesus by Chris Willis

“Because He first loved me”

This hymn is sung through the genres, plenty of awesome renditions…but this soulful version is so beautiful! Because He first loved us, THAT’S why we can love others! How cool is that?!

Loving You Is Easy by Chris August

“Loving you is elementary”

We can overthink loving others…but it’s natural. God weaved it into our being. Loving God & Jesus is just so easy once you know the whole story! Plus, youth love love songs! Here’s one that doesn’t mention physical attraction, which let’s be honest, is very hard to find these days.

No Greater Love by Smokie Norful

“The Son gave His life for me”

Song filled with John 3:16 kinda love…how much better can it get?!

Worth It by Francesca Battistelli

“not a feeling…not convenient…takes sacrifice..cuts like a knife..make you cry..but it’s worth it”

I will gladly admit that loving the way God loves takes so much energy and effort and it can really hurt…but you know what, God asks us to do it daily. And since I’m trying to please God and not others, I know it will be worth it!


In Christ,





~Ashley Litwiller is the pastor of worship and youth at Arthur Mennonite Church (IL)

Responsible Service Trips: A conversation about doing it right!

Listen to this conversation with Krista Dutt, author of the book,  “Merge:  A Guidebook for Youth Service Trips”, hosted by Kathy Neufeld Dunn, conference minister for Western District.  In this conversation, Krista talks about why service trips are foundational to faith formation, best practices, and why the term “mission trip” isn’t the preferred word choice.  Brought to you by The Gathering Place–an online community for spiritual formation, resourcing, and networking faith formation leaders in Mennonite Church USA.