KANSAS CITY (Mennonite Mission Network) – The wealth of knowledge and experience on display at the dozens of seminars at the 2019 Mennonite Church USA convention could only be described as an embarrassment of theological riches. The toughest choices throughout the week no doubt stemming from only being able to attend one seminar at a given time.
Though topics ranged from guns to prayer practices to fostering relationships that empower (clarified as “the one about dating!” in the catalogue description), a common thread woven through every seminar was a call for reexamination. Reevaluating assumptions and beliefs. The overdue need for the loudest voices in conversations to step back, and take part in the harmony of different voices, sharing together.
Andrea Sawyer-Kirksey led the “Cultural humility” seminar, and believes that seminars are an opportunity to bring the lived experiences of people of color to the forefront. Not for the education of White people, but to deepen the community between one another.
“In an increasingly multicultural world, we are no longer having the opportunity to avoid each other,” she explained. “We really have to engage in knowing one another … and realizing that we have to get this information about what we know about one another from each other.”
The spirit of fostering dialogue was also prevalent in “Reconciling conversations,” a seminar led by Jason Boone and Duane Beck. Beck guided attendees through an overview of the Better Angels organization, a movement that brings liberals and conservatives together to learn how to communicate and understand each other though political differences.
“There's a large number of people who want a different kind of conversation about politics. They long for it,” said Beck. “[But] it takes grit. It takes determination. It takes a commitment that this person needs to be loved.”
The “Get ready, get set for service!” seminar invited attendees considering voluntary service to voice their questions and concerns to a panel of past and present international service workers. Inquiries ranged from funding and traveling with children, to cultural hurdles and calling discernment.
“If you’re feeling interested in service, just go for it,” said Jerrell Ross Richer, one of the panel members. “Most of the preparation will happen when you’re actually there.” Jerrell, along with his wife, Jane, and their family work half the year with indigenous church leaders in the Ecuadorian rain forest, and half the year as educators in the United States.
Fostering and affirming calls to serve was also at the heart of the “Service is not just for kids” seminar, which focused on the opportunities and relationships created through SOOP (Service Opportunities with Our Partners). The SOOP program provides avenues of service for individuals, couples and families at locations across the United States, Canada, and internationally. SOOP is a program of Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Central Committee Canada.
For young adults discerning the call to service of a national variety, the seminar “Am I ready to face a military recruiter?” boiled down to a simple mantra. “Know who you are, know who Jesus is, and know your options,” said seminar leader Jason Boone. “We love you, you’re a part of this church, and what happens to you affects us as a body.”
Glen Guyton, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, spoke about his time in the U.S. Air Force. Guyton served as an Air Force captain when he joined the Mennonite denomination in 1993 and became a conscientious objector.
Guyton urged attendees to consider how the oath of the military contrasts with the teachings of Jesus. “How will it serve the purpose that God called you to do?” he asked.
The idea of reexamining purpose and call was also central to the “What is mission: exploring biblical foundations” seminar, led by Joe Sawatzky. Looking at texts from both the old and new testament, Sawatzky and seminar attendees examined the idea of mission through God’s relationship with creation, the people of Israel, Jesus, and the church.
“The name ‘Christian’ in its founding means an intercultural fellowship,” explained Sawatzky. “In spite of the fact that Christianity became captive to Western culture for so many hundreds of years, the actual origin of the name is a Jewish [and] Gentile intercultural fellowship."
The 2019 Mennonite Church USA convention concluded at noon on Saturday, July 6. Attendees spilled out of the worship hall, swapping the glow of stage lights for the brilliant midday sun. Bags were packed into trunks, and hotel room keys returned. While much of convention was packed up and put into storage for another two years, the lamentations, celebrations, and experiences imparted through seminars went home with the attendees. Ideas and learnings that will bloom in congregations across the country and beyond. In two years, this intercultural fellowship will gather again, stronger and more vibrant than it was before.