Christian Endeavor, the first young people's society in General Conference Mennonite churches, was organized in 1886 in the First Mennonite Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, aiming to give more opportunity and better training for more effective service in Christ's kingdom. The young people's movement in the General Conference was stimulated by the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor, founded as an interdenominational organization in 1881, and took over the name Christian Endeavor Society from it. Later the general organization took the name Young People's Union, although local congregational meetings were still called "Christian Endeavor" in the 1950s.
By 1898 there were at least 26 such organizations in the General Conference Church, by 1923 some 100, and in the 1950s it was taken for granted that every conference congregation had a young people's society. As early as 1898 many societies, besides their regular weekly or semimonthly meeting of a devotional nature, took an interest in missions and made contributions of clothing, Bibles, or money to that cause.
As the number of societies increased, young people's conventions were organized. After 1917 the young people had one evening for their program during the regular triennial sessions of the conference. After 1926, the young people had their own executive committee and in 1938 at the Saskatoon Conference, the Young People's Union was organized to stimulate and integrate various activities. Each district conference was represented on the executive committee which operated under the Board of Education and Publication of the conference. This committee, with its own editor, had a section in the weekly issue of the Mennonite, which was devoted to their interests.
After 1926 annual young people's retreats were held. Retreat grounds were acquired and developed in various districts. Besides raising many thousands of dollars each year for missions, education, relief, etc., the Young People's Union promoted voluntary service for a summer or a year at home or abroad in recent years and increasing numbers of young people participated. All work was done under and in cooperation with the General Conference.
The first Christian Endeavor Society of the Central Conference Mennonite Church, later a district conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church, the only other Mennonite conference to use this name for its young people's societies, was organized in the North Danvers, Illinois, congregation in 1892. The 1911 conference appointed a field committee to visit all of the societies in the conference. This visit to nine societies led to the appointment of a field secretary, who was instrumental in organizing the first Christian Endeavor Rally to be held in the conference, in 1913. In the 1914 conference a Christian Endeavor Union was formed.
Beginning in 1917 the union used the topics of the United Society of Christian Endeavor but adapted the materials for its own purposes. Since the merging of the above two conferences, their young people's work was under the Young People's Union.
The Young People's Union disbanded in 1969.
Kaufman, Edmund G. Our Mission as a Church of Christ. Mennonites and Their Heritage, No. IV. Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee, 1945.
Official Minutes and Reports of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America, 1860-1947.
Pannabecker, Samuel Floyd. Open Doors: a History of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1975: 374.
Weaver, William B. History of the Central Conference Mennonite Church. Danvers, Illinois, 1926.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 581. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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