I am writing from Kansas City at the 2019 Mennonite Church USA Convention (aka #MennoCon19), at the end of a rich and spiritually stimulating week. It has been surprising and wonderful to be surrounded by thousands of Mennonites. Our denomination invites people to come as they are, and we are various.
Here are a few of my personal highlights:
- Lively worship. I dare say that there was not a person at convention who was not stretched by the challenging messages, or the variety of excellent music, or by being asked to be more than a little bit silly with the folks around you. (I just can’t get that sprinkler dance move!)I was especially moved to hear Meghan Good preach on breathing in the Spirit, GC senior Abby King speak about her discovery of liberation theology at GC and how it gave her a new reason to commit to Christ, and MCUSA Executive Director Glen Guyton’s inspirational sermon about coming as we are and bringing the peace. I left with renewed commitment to Christ’s welcoming and transformative way of peace that speaks powerfully to our present times, and also the commitment to our communities — within the MCUSA and in our local setting.
- All the ways that Jesus is bringing together people from very different local communities, congregations, cultures and life stages. As Mennonites, we bring tremendous variety of cultural heritages, life experiences and perspectives on the changing world around us. And we also stand together on the shared ground of Christian discipleship, peace and transformation. Tom Yoder Neufeld, who provided Bible teachings from the book of Ephesians, said: “The church is messy. Thanks be to God!”
An example of coming together was a conversation I had with Lance Polingyouma, cultural liaison of the Hopi Peace Academic Center. Our Chamber Choir and Strings Ensemble spent an afternoon and gave a concert there while on tour last February. Lance was deeply appreciative, as this was the first opportunity for the Peace Academic Center to hold an event that drew the whole community back to the school after it had been closed down for several years. Lance and I imagined together how GC could continue to connect with their work in community education.
- Meeting new incoming students!
How fun to meet some of the new students whom I have heard about or corresponded with! I can’t wait for New Student Days. I particularly enjoyed meeting two Congolese youth from Shalom Mennonite Church in Tucson, Arizona, who had also heard our choir on tour. One of them said, “I want to go to Goshen College so much! I want to sing in that choir.”
- Growing connections amongst all of Mennonite education. The Mennonite colleges and universities shared booth was a welcoming and comfortable space with lots of student engagement. Kudos to the admissions staff who collaborated from all of our colleges.Prior to convention, the college and university presidents met for the third time as the new Mennonite Higher Education Association, which included joint meetings with the Mennonite Education Agency board the Mennonite Schools Council. As I learn to know my colleagues, I have growing gratitude for these fellow travelers.
- Excellent sessions led by many talented people, including our own faculty: John D. Roth (professor of history) on global Anabaptism, Jerrell (professor of economics) and Jane Ross Richer on walking with indigenous people, and Marcia Yost (director of the arts: engagement and outreach) on engaging music across the generations.One of the sessions I valued most was on nonviolent communication, led by Sarah Ann Bixler and based on work of Marshall Rosenberg. I believe that this may be a crucially relevant practice of our theology of nonviolence in these times.
- Meeting and mingling with more than 200 alumni and friends at our alumni and friends gathering, which included new babies, future students and alumni of all life stages. Your courageous, creative and compassionate leadership extends from coast to coast and continent to continent, from business systems and health systems to child care, pastoral care, creation care and more. Thank you for who you are and what you are doing in the world.
A group of alumni at the GC alumni gathering during the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Kansas City.
A special thanks to the numerous planners, volunteers, youth group leaders, child care providers and creative leaders who made MennoCon19 memorable and inspiring. It is a gift to be part of this vibrant faith community.