So how many Mennonite church conventions or assemblies have you been to?

Or maybe you never want to go near one. Some people would rather go to the dentist—or have a mammogram—than go to a churchwide convention.

Ever since the first youth convention I went to as a high schooler, I somehow enjoy these meetings. I’ve been lucky enough to work for the church these past 38 years, which has included “working” the convention for about 14 assemblies (plus one youth convo where I was just there as a participant). For the record, if anyone is interested, my “T-shirts” include: Lake Junaluska, N.C. ’70 (youth only); Estes Park, Co. ’77, Ames, Ia. ’85, Normal, Ill. ’89, Philadelphia ’93, Wichita ’95, Orlando ’97, St. Louis ’99, Nashville ’01, Atlanta ’03, Charlotte ’05, San Jose ’07; Columbus ’09, Pittsburgh ’11.

Shirt from Nashville 2001. I always like when my husband still wears this shirt.

That’s a lot of memories. And also a lot of university or exhibit hall menus of pasta and rolls and salad and, maybe-if-you’re-lucky,  an actual real piece of meat now and then.  (Best sweet corn ever was at Ames with ginormous ears right off the nearby farms. Umm. And many northern kids got their first taste of grits at Lake Junaluska, another yum for me.)


Top: College kids (we called them hippies) at Lake Junaluska, 1970. The couple on the left were a Kraus and a Stoltzfus. Most of us high schoolers looked like the photo on the bottom.

Today conventions include sitting down to lots of meals around round or long tables with people I’ve never met before in my life (because usually in working a booth or store in the exhibit hall, you’re sent to hurry and eat by yourself in order to get back to meet people over the busy time at meals). Usually by the end of the meal, I’ve made personal Mennonite-game connections with almost everyone at the table.


Convention is hot cities and late nights and, in the old days, hard beds in dorm rooms. At one point I remember hiding my napping babies underneath seminar tables when I was speaking about “Working and Mothering.”


My daughter Doreen attending her first convention
at Normal, Ill., where we stayed in dorm rooms.

Two years ago (2011) in Pittsburgh, MennoMedia was officially launched as the newest baby in the Mennonite cradle, merging two organizations with roots going back a combined total of over 160 years.


These are valuable times to connect with so many people from across the church, face to face. It is a time to:

  • Meet people MennoMedia staff or its predecessor agencies interviewed for videos or documentaries but that I personally had never met face to face.

DiscussionRhodaLois Ann Mast and Rhoda Keener

  • Chat with authors and potential authors, lots of people have ideas they want to share.

StuartMurrayWilliamsAndByronRempelBrubaker.docxStuart Murray and Byron Rempel-Burkholder

  • Attend meeting upon meeting upon meeting.

A group of Mennonite Church USA Resource Advocates

  • Choose from a complete menu of seminars to attend: this year the ones hosted by MennoMedia include topics on Sports and the Family; Always On: Living with Media in Families; The Push and Pull of the Institutional Church; Spiritual But Not Religious; Parenting after Divorce; Shine: Engaging Children in Faith Formation; Sunday School or Starbucks?; Building Daily Time with God; Relating to Your Muslim Neighbor, and more. If you are not at convention, these can be ideas for Sunday school classes, small group discussion topics, speaker ideas for a future retreat at your church or conference. The full list of adult, youth or intergenerational seminars (with lots more ideas for you) is here.

SeminarGerald Mast, author of Go to Church, Change the World, will do a seminar at Phoenix.

  • Hear from the grassroots, all in one place—through talk-back sessions at seminars, at booths or stores, in delegate sessions.
  • Be inspired by the newest (and oldest) music of all types: four part harmony, late night screaming Christian rock bands, gentle blue grass, soul, opera, actors, stand-up comedians.
  • Read the daily “Top Ten” lists in the daily newssheet, which this year anyone can follow here.
  • Be challenged by those hitting the streets with a public witness or a border visit or serving in one of many venues around town. Or a Flash mob somewhere.

  • Appreciate all of the wonderful things about gathering in flesh and blood community and imagine what future fellowship with God and Jesus and all the saints will be like.

Heaven on earth. I am grateful to have this opportunity. Even as I wonder how we’ll survive 115 degree heat (46 Celsius).

Or, for some, a grind they wouldn’t want to go near.

Whatever  your tastes, pray for those gathered as Mennonite Church USA in Phoenix. Mennonite Church Canada will gets it turn again next year in the new every-other-year pattern of conventions for the two denominations, meeting in Winnipeg in 2014.

What do you like about churchwide assemblies? What don’t you like? Comment if you like!

Personally I like seeing so many children at
church conventions, whether youth or tiny babies.

Do check out our MennoMedia store in the Exhibit Hall area in Phoenix, where many of us will be glad to meet you personally and show you all our special deals!


Melodie Davis
Managing editor

Here’s a piece I wrote earlier: Conventions: Are They Worth It?

Thank a Sunday School Teacher

By Mary Ann Weber

When teaching middler Sunday school a few years ago, I decided to have the class do a few activities to give them an idea of how Abraham and Sarah lived. First, we made fry bread. We mixed flour and water and a few other ingredients and made dough that we flattened and fried. It was a hit because the children were learning to cook simple meals at home, plus they wanted to eat the fry bread.

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Second, we used blankets and chairs and made a tent. It was a sorry-looking tent and I’m sure it was nothing like the tent in which Abraham and Sarah lived. But when we got inside the tent it gave the children a good idea that Abraham and Sarah did not live in houses made of wood and stone.

Third, we built an altar. I gathered field stones that surround the flower gardens at my house, placed them into buckets, and hauled them to church. It was heavy work but I knew the children would enjoy building with the stones. I was right. They crafted a lovely and sturdy altar next to the tent.

I left the altar and began walking to the next activity but soon noticed that I was alone. I looked behind me and, to my surprise, the children were kneeling around the altar! Their eyes were closed, their lips were moving, and their hands were folded in prayer.


My preparation for that Sunday school session included retelling a story about familiar Old Testament characters and preparing activities to go along with the story. I informed the children, but I forgot about faith forming in their lives. Fortunately, the Sunday school class hadn’t forgotten—they knew what an altar was and they wanted their moment with God.

Gather Round Product 006

Teaching Sunday school takes dedication. Finding resources that take information to the next level and allow formation are key. So are finding resources that fit the theological framework of the congregation and denomination. Other considerations include the right mix of learning and fun, the learning styles of the class members, how easy the materials are to use, among other things.

Two evaluation tools, MennoLens  and MennoLens2,  help congregations choose materials based on Anabaptist Mennonite perspectives.

Teaching Sunday school is no small task. Find a Sunday school teacher this week and give the teacher a big thank-you. Hats off to Sunday school teachers everywhere!


The main Sunday school materials we have for children are published with Church of the Brethren and are called Gather ‘Round. A new curriculum to follow Gather ‘Round is Shine, well into planning and writing,  to launch fall of 2014.


Mary Ann Weber
Curriculum editor

A romance, a new merger – and a goodbye.

We had a much-needed fun break recently from the intense work of getting ready for the every-other-year massive marathon of the Mennonite Church USA Convention July 1-6, 2013 (intensified by MennoMedia’s fiscal year-end madness, coming June 30), in addition to our regular work.

Kimberly and Dorothy set out party food.

So we celebrated the upcoming wedding of Evan McCarthy, whom many of you have met through this blog, or on the phone, or in emails, or somewhere else. (See Evan’s most recent blog post on struggling through inventory.)

Arrival.We had a surprise shower! Heather, the bride-to-be, also surprised Evan in our lunch/break room.

It was a bittersweet occasion, though, because Evan left employment with MennoMedia as of June 18 to go to grad school. We will miss him.

Evan in the warehouse in 2011.

He joined us when he was just a rising senior at Eastern Mennonite University the summer of 2011; he was hired one day, and by early the next morning left for a trip with two others to Scottdale, Pa. (the former headquarters of the Mennonite Publishing Network arm of the merger with Third Way Media that formed MennoMedia in July 2011).

They went to Scottdale to check out mail room equipment and gauge how big of move we were all getting ourselves into.

MennoBytesBlogPostBuilding 017
Mailroom equipment was moved and installed in the Harrisonburg shipping department.

Evan worked full time that summer, and part time while he finished his senior year as a business major at EMU. Then Evan began working full time right after graduation.

Evan and Heather at EMU graduation, 2012.

He had some great promotional ideas, as he helped to launch Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations through Facebook giveaways.

Amy Gingerich, Editorial Director at MennoMedia is all smiles upon receiving the just published Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations.

Amy Gingerich, Editorial Director at MennoMedia is all smiles upon receiving the just published Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations.

Evan also has a great gift for numbers, or metrics, which people seem to like to call certain kinds of measurements these days.

He helped us through many difficult challenges surrounding the merger, like counting books, finding places for them, dealing with the Acumen database for our store’s website, dealing with Amazon, dealing with Amazon.

He helped launch this blog—a task he enjoyed because it was a “diversion” from Amazon.

Evan in India

He also often entertained us at lunch with wild tales of the latest Bollywood movie he had watched. Both he and Heather spent their EMU Cross Cultural term in India, which they loved—and where they also grew to love each other.

A wedding is a merger of another kind with its own challenges. But with a shower of good wishes and a few gifts to start off their humble household (with Evan being a “poor grad student” at Virginia Tech and Heather an elementary school teacher looking for a teaching job in that area)—we know they’ll persevere as they go off into the sunset together.


In a “goodbye” email he wrote to staff, “Working at MennoMedia and getting to work with each and every person here has been an incredible experience, and I feel very blessed to have had this opportunity. I’m definitely going to be thinking of you every time I see a Herald Press title on our bookshelves. Please feel free to keep in touch or contact me with any questions about anything I may have left half finished (my inbox is currently over 3,000).”

Best wishes and congratulations, Evan and Heather.


Do you have any words of advice for the young newlyweds? He’ll still be following this blog!

All MennoMedia office photos by Wayne Gehman, photographer.