The youth of our Protestant Reformed Churches are again awaiting their annual convention. These conventions have been held annually for twenty-two years, except for several years during the mid-forties. In reviewing the analyses of these past conventions, it is amazing to note the similarity between the first conventions and those held in recent years. Since the first convention held August 2 and 3, 1939, it has been a tradition for the program to include three inspirational speeches, business meetings, an outing, with the banquet as the grand finale. It was not many years later that the Mass Meeting was included in the activities, extending the convention to three days in length. This same program presented for twenty-two years has not lost its appeal for many of our young people. The following impressions of the early conventions might well have been expressed just last year or the year before:
“How eagerly we looked forward to it (the convention) all summer! And our anticipation was well rewarded, for we certainly enjoyed those few days of Christian fellowship with our fellow members from the various societies.”
“The Convention is past, but the many pleasant memories of it will long remain with us.”
“Being a delegate to our Convention was truly an experience of Christian fellowship and inspirational joy for me.”
“Every activity was enjoyed and it was good to meet and visit with the young people from many of our Churches.” “Thanks to the Host Committee and to all those who made this year’s convention a success.”
Adherence to the precedents set by past host societies has in many ways kept our conventions a rewarding experience for everyone who attends. But it is my purpose in this article to diagnose a dark shadow which I see circumventing our conventions. This shadow has been glimpsed, at least partially, even by those attending the earliest conventions, so I do not contend that the blame should be placed on recent host committees. It is the fault of all who have taken part in the preparation and planning and those who continue to cling to past precedents. These impressions of early conventioneers best exhibit the character of this dark shadow:
“I think it was a fine convention and I enjoyed every bit of it. I especially enjoyed the addresses by the three speakers, on the well-chosen subject, ‘Steadfastness.’ I think a discussion such as we had following the afternoon speech is a fine idea. However, there seems to be a tendency for the young people to sit back and let the ministers present take over to a great extent. This I am quite sure is not the intention in having such a discussion. What we should have is a lively discussion by all those present.”
“The convention was wonderful! I thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship with other young people of the same faith. There were, however, some things which were disgusting. For one thing, I didn’t like the singing of popular songs on the bus tour through Chicago by some of our young people. Then, too, there were some who stayed at home or went elsewhere while the speeches were being delivered. These things should not occur at a Protestant Reformed Young People’s Convention.”
“This was but the second convention which I attended so that if I desire to compare it with previous meetings, I can do so only by comparing it with the last meeting. If there was any marked difference in the two conventions, I would say that this year’s meeting lacked somewhat in its social atmosphere. But I should hasten to add that this tendency is very likely to grow if we young people cling to just our own local delegates and visitors instead of promoting acquaintances with all those who attend. Is not this one of the aims of holding a Protestant Reformed Young People’s Convention?”
“When the Protestant Reformed Young People’s Federation holds a convention, it does so not only for the purpose of bringing our young people together for a few days, but also in order to enact new decisions. These decisions are to be used to further the cause and purpose of the Federation and are for the good of our young people as a whole. Matters of this nature are not to be passed over lightly, as if they must be hurriedly agreed upon, in order to get on with the less boring affairs such as the festivities.
“At our past conventions, this has often been the case. A motion is made and seconded, and then it is passed with little or no discussion, except by one or two delegates — usually the same one or two. Sometimes the delegates will vote on the measure without even realizing what they are voting for, and certainly without giving it any consideration.
“At the coming convention, various questions will arise, questions that are vital as far as the Federation is concerned. The answers to these questions will affect every one of us. Have we not the right, then, to demand that our delegates give a little more thought to them?”
How well these comments fit even our recent conventions. Is one of the pleasant memories we have when leaving a convention that of haring met new friends? I think not. Most of our youth have congregated for the entire convention with those they see every day at home. Something must be done to help overcome the shyness of our young people. Future host societies might well consider this and devise ways to encourage our youth to intermingle with one another.
Where are our debates and discussions! These are seriously lacking in our convention programs. What better ways than debates and discussion groups do we have to allow our youth to air their common problems they face as covenant youth. What better activity could we endorse that would unite and knit our young people together as one whole. Even though some of our Churches are hundreds of miles apart, we could feel more as one — as one Church.
A word also has to be said about the qualifications of our delegates. How do we elect our delegates? Do we vote for a person merely because he is a friend or do we vote for those best qualified? These delegates will be making important decisions and, therefore, must be interested enough in the welfare of their peers to take every measure necessary to be well-informed, organized, critical representatives. This means a properly competent delegate must give advance consideration to proposals and be willing to attend the business meetings to insure no impairment of our welfare. These qualifications are seriously lacking in many of our delegates! How childish it is to hear announced at the opening of our first business meeting that no traveling expenses will be paid to those delegates who do not attend the meetings. A lack of interest is definitely apparent.
Something must be done — not only by future host committees but also by the young people in all the churches every year. Otherwise, this dark shadow will become a permanent addition to our convention program.