This year thousands of Mennonites from across the United States gathered in Orlando, Florida for the biennial Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) Convention. The purpose of convention is to empower the church to achieve its vision, purpose and mission. Over the four days, members of congregations from across the country attend daily worship, workshops/seminars, participate in servant projects and delegates from MCUSA Congregations and Conferences attend business sessions. This year there was also the Future Church Summit, “a generative, open space for denomination-wide conversation — to dream together, reset priorities and engage one another in answering the question: How will we follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century?”
The week began on Tuesday evening, July 4; several offered greetings, including Mennonite Church Canada’s Executive Minister, Will Metrzger. Recognizing July 4 as the United States’ Independence Day he stated, “while some are celebrating with bombs bursting in air, we are celebrating the explosion of God’s grace.”
The theme for this year’s convention was Love is a Verb. Worship speakers focused on this theme, and workshops spoke of how we can live out the love of God, covering topics of church safety, patriarchy, racism, Israel Palestine, “Keeping the Church Weird” and hearing God’s call, among others.
Sometimes love as a verb means recognizing and acknowledging when we have not loved. Ted & Company, in their new show Discovery: A Comic Lament, shared the Doctrine of Discovery and how even we as Mennonites have played a role in justifying the taking of land from the indigenous people here in the United States. It was a sobering reminder as we began the week.
Wednesday brought the Dove’s Nest awards celebration, recognizing churches “that did something courageous to keep children safe.” Salford Mennonite Church was one of the three nominee finalists. They were nominated for their service that happened at the end of March, which focused on the journey of abuse and healing as reflected by the Ezekiel 37 passage about the valley of dry bones. This service included voices of lament, hope and direct statements from survivors of childhood sexual abuse. More resources and information on how this service was put together can be found at http://mosaicmennonites.org/church-safety/. Wednesday also brought a time of connecting for those from across Franconia Conference, as we gathered together for food, fellowship, and music by The Walking Roots.
Thursday contained two big events: voting on the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution and the kick off of the Future Church Summit. Two years ago at the Kansas City Convention, a resolution regarding Israel Palestine was tabled. Since then a three-person writing team and a ten-person reference team worked to draft a new resolution, the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution. Prior to the vote on the resolution, delegates heard from the writing team, discussed in their table groups, and then heard comments, concerns and questions. There were overwhelming comments of support for the resolution which ultimately passed with 97% in favor.
The Future Church Summit was a new addition this year to Convention. It was a time of dreaming and visioning, and discerning how God is leading us to follow Jesus. Delegates were joined by others from throughout MCUSA including high school students who had been chosen to be part of the Summit. The first day was spent getting to know one another by answering questions such as “When did you feel most connected to the Mennonite Church? What nourishes your spirit by being Anabaptist?” There was also a time of grounding participants in the history of Anabaptism and Mennonites, drawing learnings from our past.
Convention continues Friday and Saturday morning.