Planning team members, interns and crew give hours to Named 2015
By Connie Faber
The 2015 National MB Youth Conference (NYC) brought together 780 teens and their sponsors for a four-day conference. Named 2015 involved a number of people who were never seen on stage but whose work was important to the weekend.
Topping the list are the youth workers who were on duty 24/7 from the time they boarded the van, bus or plane until four days later when they arrived back home. The youth workers may have put in long days but they also benefitted from the conference. “God moves among us just like he does the students,” planning team member Russ Claassen told the sponsors Friday morning during the youth workers meeting.
Among these sponsors was BJ Heizelman (top right) from Buhler (Kan.) MB Church who has attended all 11 NYC events, beginning in 1975 when he was a high school freshman. While Heizelman has an impressive ongoing tenure as a youth sponsor, Lynda and Jim Richert (bottom right) from Corn (Okla.) MB Church were the oldest sponsors at Named 2015. The couple, both in their early 70s, were sponsors in the 80s, took a break during the 90s and returned again as youth sponsors at the request of their pastor.
Youth workers who had medical issues themselves during the weekend or who had students in need of medical care called on Jessica Klassen. Klassen, from Birch Bay, Wash., was the Named 2015 on-site nurse. She was on call during the weekend to provide basic medical care and made at least two trips to the hospital during the weekend.
The three Mennonite Brethren educational institutions—Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kan., and Fresno Pacific University and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, Fresno, Calif.—support NYC. Part of their support includes providing college students to serve as event interns. The 12 interns helped to set up the ballroom for the general sessions, assisted with the registration process, spent five to six hours making and packing sack lunches for the students to eat during their Service Ops, distributed the lunches (photo left) and hosted Late Night activities.
“The interns from both schools could not have blended any better,” says Lee Waldron, Tabor College director of admissions. “They built a wonderful relationship during the conference and were so selfless to do whatever was needed. I was encouraged by this and blessed by the work that took place.”
Making sure that the audience could see and hear what was happening on stage was the job of a production crew of about 12 people. Chris Glanzer, of Glanzer Pro Audio in Hillsboro, Kan., was the sound engineer (picture right) and his colleague, Doug Brewer, handled the projection system while Anna Srok took care of the lighting and assisted Neil Bontrager of the planning team with directing duties. Bontrager’s wife, Kim, was responsible for the graphic elements on the screens and Byron Funk was the stage manager. The Colorado Convention Center requires that union employees work CCC events and both Bontrager and Glanzer spoke highly of the hard work and efficiency of the union workers that assisted with Named 2015.
One can only imagine how many hours the planning team spent praying and working for Named 2015. These eight volunteers were commissioned by the USMB Leadership Board to plan the 2015 NYC; NYC is held every four years. The Named 2015 planning team included Kyle Goings, Wichita, Kan.; Jeral Gross, Bridgewater, SD; Matt Ford, Fresno, Calif.; Keith Warkentin, Birch Bay, Wash.; Russ Claassen, Newton, Kan.; Joanna Chapa, Hillsboro, Kan., and Christy Goentzel and Neil Bontrager, both from Wichita, Kan.
Programming team gives attention to the details
While most members of the planning team were involved in the planning process for about three years, Bontrager joined the team in January 2015 when the member coordinating the general session stepped down. The Scripture text and theme, venue, speaker and worship band were set; Bontrager’s task was to fill out the basic skeleton.
Bontrager took a thematic approach to that assignment. All together, 34 people were involved in the programming and production side of Named 2015.
Bontrager recruited his wife, Kim, and Tammy Ratzlaff and Byron Funk, who all worship at First MB Church, Wichita, Kan., to create the outline and content for each general session. After meeting together three or four hours weekly to develop an initial plan, the creative team spent two days with John Richardson, Named 2015 speaker. They talked through his messages and brainstormed ways to enhance the sessions and emphasize the theme of identity and names.
The drama team One Time Blind was added to the program line-up as a result of the conversation between the creative team and Richardson. “We contacted them (One Time Blind) on fairly short notice,” says Bontrager, “and we were so glad they were willing to come.”
One way the drama team contributed to the weekend was producing a video of the quartet reading the Named 2015 Scripture text as a reader’s theater. The four actors created the video just for Named 2015 and the entire video or portions of it were shown each night during Richardson’s sermon. It wasn’t until the third session, after One Time Blind performed for the first time, that the audience realized that the One Time Blind actors were the same four people reading the Scripture. “It was an unexpected twist to give the audience a smile,” said Bontrager.
Bontrager and the program team outlined the goals of each session for both One Time Blind and For All Seasons, the conference worship band. The groups then selected which sketches or songs in their repertoire fit best with that session.
Whether it was a pre-session game of “Never Have I Ever,” a song played by James Isaac and the unNamed House Band or the agency featured during that session, the programming team carefully thought about what the students and youth workers would experience from the time they walked into the ballroom 30 minutes prior to the general session until they left two and one-half hours later.
Ty Herrington, Wichita, Kan., was “the brains behind the games” for the pre-session (photo left). Peyton Loewen, a Tabor College student, assisted him. Stephen Humber, pastor of discipleship at Stony Brook Church in Omaha, Neb., was the emcee or “host” (photo right.)
Because the emcee does more than be funny, provide transitions between elements of the program and make announcements, finding the right person for that job was important. “The emcee has to handle unexpected moments in a pastoral way,” says Bontrager. “There is weight and spiritual content. Not everything can be scripted. I’m incredibly pleased with the job Stephen did.”
Watching Herrington, Loewen, Humber and other volunteers fulfill their assignments was a highlight for Bontrager. “That was one of the biggest joys—watching the people we placed in certain roles use their gifts for God and work hard to do that well.”
Among those volunteers were the four men that made up the house band: James Isaac on vocals and keyboard, drummer Archie Eutsler and guitarists Steven Gramsa and Dustin Hurlock. The four had not played together before, but they are all connected to First MB Church of Wichita, Kan., or bands that played at Southern District Conference summer camps.
The house band provided subtle connections to the Named 2015 theme of identity and names as well as specific elements of the evening program. For example, the house band played The Who’s “Who Are You?” to officially open the first session and a rock version of the Tabor College hymn when President Jules Glanzer walked on stage.
The house band was part of the creative team’s effort to give the opening segment the feel of a late night talk show. A video featuring nighttime scenes of downtown Denver and footage of Herrington and Loewen who provided a comic element each evening, speaker John Richardson, worship band For All Seasons, the house band, Humber and that evening’s special guests added to the atmosphere.
The opening segment was another intentional decision on the part of the programming team. “We wanted to bring everyday elements like comedy and popular music into the sessions,” says Bontrager.
“We want our lives to please God and the easiest thing is to keep faith in a separate place,” he says. “It’s harder to integrate our faith into the secular world. We wanted to do this in appropriate ways, not to be clever but to point to Jesus.”