Mennonite church pews may be looking a little grayer in recent years, but Service Adventure continues to form young adults' faith and to connect them to the larger Mennonite Church.
In Service Adventure, participants live and serve in a community. They grow their faith by participating in worship nights and a local Mennonite church, and by being mentored.
"As young adults become part of a different Mennonite congregation, they feel more of a connection to the broader Mennonite Church," said Susan Nisly, director of Service Adventure. "This often means that they tend to stay more engaged with the church as they go on to college or careers."
Nisly realized this her first year as director. Two leaders of Service Adventure units had recently graduated from college. They were interested in pastoral ministry and thought of Service Adventure as a way to try that out. A few years later, a young couple who had recently graduated from Hesston College's pastoral ministry program came to test their call by pastoring a small group of participants.
Shaping young leaders who love the church
When Service Adventure participants and leaders join a community, the local congregation makes it a priority to involve them. The churches with which Service Adventure partner recognize the value of giving people a chance to test their gifts. "As participants are given the opportunity to preach or lead worship, sometimes they discover a gift they hadn't recognized yet," said Nisly.
"Through the experience, they definitely learn and grow and develop their gifts, which hopefully makes them stronger leaders in whatever ministry they pursue afterward."
That was true for Marc Schlegel-Preheim, who was a Service Adventure leader in Philippi, West Virginia, from 2003–2005. Schlegel-Preheim credited those who mentored him at the local church. "[They] kept slowly moving me toward pastoral ministry," he said.
"My work as a leader was to be in relationship with the participants, to help broaden their worldview, to begin to consider new ways of thinking about life, faith and work," said Schlegel-Preheim. And now he continues that work, but as pastor of Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship in Boise, Idaho.
But not everyone is called to pastoral ministry. And Service Adventure grows those leaders, too.
Lauren Eash Hershberger, a former Service Adventure participant, served in Johnstown in 2005 at an after-school program called New Day. At first, she was overwhelmed at the thought of creating a daily schedule, Bible lesson, activities, and managing a classroom of third graders. "But I grew to love it. I saw skills forming that I never knew I had," said Eash Hershberger.
"My true self finally felt seen. It was also incredibly affirming in a way because I was giving people a view of my leadership gifts, and people were giving me feedback that I was doing well. I entered the year being a shy kid who felt overlooked, and left as a leader."
Eash Hershberger was mentored by her Service Adventure leader and placement supervisor. She was affirmed in her leadership, organization, and conflict management skills—all of which were honed when she and her husband, Mark, became Service Adventure leaders in 2011. They served for two years in Albany, Oregon.
Now, Eash Hershberger works for the larger church through Mennonite Mission Network.
"[Service Adventure] actively works at strengthening the church by strengthening the people," Nisly said.
Evan Finger, a Service Adventure participant, with part of his class at New Day. Evan taught one of the classes at this after-school program for kids in the community in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Photo by Susan Nisly.