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This article was published 6/6/2015 (1592 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With a resumé that includes offices such as youth parliamentarian, university regent and assistant to the provincial opposition leader, at age 22 Joey Dearborn takes on another role: president of a local Christian denomination.
Last weekend the Fort Garry resident became the youngest president ever of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario of the United Church of Canada, which includes nearly 50,000 members in 249 congregations.
"He brings a skill set and real enthusiasm for the church that he’s learned in the church. I really believe he’ll be an excellent president," says outgoing president Rev. Barbara Jardine, who serves three rural churches north of Brandon.
Dearborn assumed the presidential mantle at the conference’s 2015 annual meeting, a year after being voted president-elect in his second attempt to win the volunteer job.
"Joey has been primed for this for a long time," says Ruth Denton, 23, who has organized youth events and attended national meetings with Dearborn, and edited his campaign speech for his first run at the office.
"He’s thrown himself into the church and he’s involved in everything."
The Emerson native is also set to make a little more history. For the first time in the organization’s history, he’ll serve two years instead of the customary 12 months, since the conference decided not to hold an annual meeting in 2016.
"To host an annual meeting (costs) about $25,000, and when the national church decides it is cutting back grants at a rapid pace, we have to make cuts," explains Dearborn, a 2014 University of Winnipeg political science graduate.
Dearborn knows more tough decisions are ahead for the United Church of Canada, which celebrates its 90th anniversary on June 10 amidst declining attendance and an aging demographic. This summer he’ll represent his conference at the denomination’s general council, which will discuss significant restructuring of the country’s largest Protestant group, including eliminating one level of governance and reorganizing the 13 existing conferences into larger regional bodies.
About two million Canadians identify themselves as part of the United Church.
But he’s not scared of change, and plans to spend much of the next two years visiting congregations and speaking to as many people as possible about their vision for the denomination.
"My goal is to let us let go of some of the things we think are important, but may not be," explains Dearborn, an avid Blue Bomber and Winnipeg Jets fan who blogs at https://joeydearborn. wordpress.com.
"We hold on to our buildings and we hold on to our structures."
He’s already shown considerable skill in listening to people and being inclusive of many opinions and perspectives, says Pat Chabluck of Oakbank United, who has seen his leadership skills grow over the last half-dozen years.
"If you forget about the age and listen to the person, you realize how knowledgeable his is," says Chabluck, who works in youth ministry.
With three years of experience at the Manitoba Legislature under his belt, first as assistant to Progressive Conservative MLA Cliff Graydon, and now to Opposition Leader Brian Pallister, Dearborn doesn’t rule out his own run for political office, but says it will be long after completing his term as conference president.
"I’m a little bit idealistic," says Dearborn, who describes himself as a centrist.
"I believe that politics can be a force for the good but often we see that it isn’t, but it still gives me hope that it can be."
He’s also hopeful for his church, and demonstrated that ability and commitment are more important than age, says Rev. Shannon Mc-Carthy, executive secretary of the conference.
"He loves the church, he’s grounded in the church, but he sees room for new things," says McCarthy.
"He’s been able to frame things in a way that can bridge the generations."
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
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