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.
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.
- Chat with authors and potential authors, lots of people have ideas they want to share.
- Attend meeting upon meeting upon meeting.
- 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.
- 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!
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!
Here’s a piece I wrote earlier: Conventions: Are They Worth It?