Whether it is running for office or planning a national event, Winnipegger Joey Dearborn doesn't use his age as an excuse for not getting involved.
At age 21, he's the youngest president-elect of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario of the United Church of Canada and the force behind Rendez-vous 2014, an upcoming United Church youth and young adult assembly to be held at the University of Manitoba, Aug. 13-16.
"My mission in the church is to show young people they can do this stuff and it doesn't always have to be the same people over 60 doing everything," says the recent University of Winnipeg politics graduate, who is heading up the local arrangements committee.
Two years ago, Dearborn put together a bid to hold the United Church Rendez-vous 2014 (www.uccrendezvous.ca/) here, despite doubts from some church folks that a Winnipeg-based event could attract the necessary crowds.
"What excites me is that we've all pulled together and we can do this in Winnipeg, and we can do it without as big of a budget as it used to be," Dearborn said.
With at least 400 teenagers, young adults and youth sponsors registered for the four days of speakers, workshops and tours, it seems that Dearborn's instincts were right.
"I wanted to do it because people are always afraid the church is dying and I think we need to show it may not be," says the native of Emerson, who works for Manitoba Opposition Leader Brian Pallister.
"There's still a lot of life left in it."
But life in and around the United Church may look quite different in the next decade than the mostly white English-speaking church founded in 1925, says Kofi Hope, a Toronto-based community activist and Rhodes scholar who will speak to conference-goers on Aug. 14.
Raised in the United Church, and finding himself more at the edges, Hope plans to speak about his experiences of embracing diversity and pluralism, both in his family and his work.
Hope's wife was raised Hindu, and they are parents of an infant daughter.
"I think it's easy to come together when you're the same and it's harder when everyone is different and it takes more time, but it's beautiful," says the 31-year-old Hope, who has a doctorate in political science from Oxford.
He's well aware he and others in his generation lean toward being spiritual-but-not-religious, but recognizes the cost of that.
"What we lose from that (perspective) is faith in community," says Hope, managing director of Community Empowering Enterprises, an organization working with economic issues facing black youth in Toronto.
"We have to get that back, but not to have dogmas and worship styles, and celebrate diversity."
With the United Church facing significant financial challenges, Dearborn fears this could be the last big national youth conference.
"There's this assumption that the United Church of Canada doesn't care about youth because every time budget cuts come around, they cut that budget line," says Dearborn, who becomes president of the local conference in 2015.
"If they don't take care of the future, how do you pay bills of the present?"
But the national church is investing more than $120,000 in the conference and plans to hold more youth events in the future, perhaps in another format, says Nora Sanders, the general secretary of the denomination.
"We need to keep room for new things to rise up and new ideas to be lived out," says Sanders, who admits the denomination faces significant challenges due to budget cuts and falling revenues.