Karisa Martin, Ambler
As I am writing this article and reflecting on the Mennonite Youth Convention in San Jose, I am turning a small polished rock over and over in my hands. Inspired by a song in the musical Godspell, during which a character puts a pebble in his shoe at the start of a journey, my youth leader instructed everyone in our group to chose a rock to accompany us to San Jose. Though we kept our rocks in our pockets instead of in our shoes, they were nonetheless notable traveling companions. Individually and together, we assigned meaning to our rocks throughout the trip.
The trip to San Jose had a rocky start, and that wasnâ€™t because everyone in the youth group had a rock in their pocket. Thanks to thunderstorms in Atlanta, our flight plans became quite convoluted. The inclement weather tacked on hours of waiting at the Philadelphia airport and caused us to miss our connecting flight. Arriving in Atlanta in the wee hours of the morning, we were forced to hunker down for the night on the airportâ€™s incredibly plush benches.
After long awaited warm showers and changes of clothes, our youth group was ready to soak up what convention had to offer. Early on we realized we would be spending lots of time at the convention center . Since we were staying near the airport, there would be no discreet sneaking away to our hotel rooms for naps. We were pushed to engage. I may have sacrificed sleep, but I gained so much more through new connections and thoughtful conversations.
I hoped that engaging in convention would bring me some peace of mind about all the uncertainty that the future holds. What I found instead was discomfort of the most wonderful kind. My youth groupsâ€™ rocks were fitting metaphors for this. As river rocks, they were polished by bumping and scraping against many other rocks. Though San Jose was my third convention, I was not able to coast through the week on my familiarity. My faith journey bumped and scraped against the large group dynamics, hearing from my peers, and the challenges that the speakers offered. The process may not always feel pleasant, but as a river rock becomes beautifully polished, I know discomfort is a part of being polished into the person God is calling me to be.
Besides wrestling with my own calling, I witnessed the larger church struggle with its calling during convention. Iâ€™ve enjoyed looking at how the three conventions Iâ€™ve attended have built on each other. From being a welcoming body, to speaking up about our faith, the Mennonite church has grown to this theme of living the call. Living the call happens inside of every believer, in the body of Christ, and it overflows into our communities and the world.
Iâ€™ve also enjoyed how my traveling companions to convention have changed. I sneaked into the Atlanta convention with a friend from church as a part of a youth group we’d never attended. Two years later, a group of four of us from Ambler congregation tagged along with another youth group. What a joy it was this year to have a full fledged seven person crew from Ambler! Our small group discussions could rise out of the needs of our church and community. Plus, we already had a foundation of trust and openness. Every time we met, we placed our rocks in a circle. These rocks served as a powerful symbol of unity and of what we each contributed to our group times. Throughout the week in our discussions we explored how our rocks, our words, and our actions could, instead of building walls, build up the church.
More than any other convention, this one has been about the journey. It has affirmed that living faithfully means being on a winding spiritual road. We can encounter God all along the road, not just inside the San Jose convention center. Our youth group got to feel this reality a bit sooner than others. God was in the airport gate as we planned a Sunday worship service about convention. God was at Ambler Mennonite Church as we passionately shared our convention experiences and God will go with us as we discover ways to live the call.
In my more cynical moods I question why I went to convention. I wonder about the hundreds of dollars and the hours spent fundraising that could have gone to needs right at home or in anywhere around the globe. Did I really need to be flying cross country, eating in delicious ethnic restaurants, and sleeping on a wonderfully plush bed? Well, no. Convention leaves a lot to be desired as far as stewardship of resources goes, but convention is invaluable for the way it unites the Mennonite Church. Gathering pools our resources, energizes us for our daily Christian walk, and gives us a better picture of the body of Christ. Convention gives us a sense of who we are, who weâ€™d like to become in Christ, and how Christ can work through us for that transformation to occur.
All that transformation can be quite uncomfortable. It doesnâ€™t feel good to know that I probably play a part, even in my silence, for people not feeling included in this community of faith. It doesnâ€™t feel good to see ways I fall short of integrity. And it doesnâ€™t feel good to hear about people my age checking out of the church. There is so much brokenness in me, in my peers, and in our church. But there is also great capacity to love, heal, and hope. I felt that work begin at convention, and it will continue at our home congregations and communities.
I left convention examining how am I to respond to being chosen by God. In what ways am I broken? How I can take what Iâ€™ve been blessed with to bless others? What does it mean to put on the full armor of God? Being a child of God comes with great expectation. I am reminded of this each time I pick up my rock that I carried throughout convention. As light reflects off my polished rock, Iâ€™m encouraged to make my life a reflection of Godâ€™s love. The time is now to joyfully fulfill my obligation to live the call! Will you join me?
Photos provided by Karisa Martin and David Landis