Scott Hartman is the director of Event Planning for Mennonite Church USA.
I just got back from a meeting for people who plan religious meetings. The final presenter asked us to think about the first big gathering we attended. Do you remember your first Mennonite convention? I DO!
It was 1985. I was a sophomore in high school. Our youth group met several other youth groups from the area in the Kmart parking lot to jump on several chartered busses. We were headed to Ames ’85. I met lots of kids from Elkhart County on the bus ride there. And then we got to the campus of Iowa State University. It seemed like we walked downhill a mile both directions to get to/from worship. We did crazy get-to-know-you games outside our dorms. We worshipped with thousands of other youth and adults. There were too many seminars to choose between. By the end of the convention, we were exhausted and totally on fire for God. Several members of our youth group made a commitment to follow Jesus. Convention was the BEST THING EVER!
As director of Event Planning for Mennonite Church USA, I get to hear the good and the bad from convention. There are always area for improvement. Sometimes the complaints start to make me feel like convention was a failure. Then someone shares a story about their amazing experience at convention and I realize most of the complaints are from people who want to help convention be the BEST THING EVER.
At MennoCon19 I heard about an elementary school girl for whom everything (meaning church and school) is boring or not good enough. She told her parents after the second day of convention that she was really enjoying everything and couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen the next day. I heard about a junior youth participant who came to Kansas City not knowing anyone. After the first day, she reported that she had already made friends from across the country and was excited to go back the next day.
I heard about a youth group that came into worship and sat in the back of the room. They weren’t really “into” the worship services. Eventually they decided they should try sitting closer to the front. Suddenly, worship changed for them and they were able to more fully enter a time of worship, changing their entire perspective of convention worship. On the post-convention survey, one adult responded to the question of their highlight with “I loved everything. The speakers were all amazing and I really enjoyed the delegate meetings. The improv group was great too.”
I know there are lots of similar stories from people across Mennonite Church USA. Convention has a special place in our faith journey and spiritual development.
Some people remember their first time in worship and the amazing singing. Some people remember running in the exhibit hall the first time it opened. Some people remember seeing that good-looking person across the room and eventually marrying that person. Some people remember standing in long lines to get lunch. Some people remember that one seminar or worship speaker that said something life changing.
Sometimes I can’t believe I get to plan this amazing event for all of Mennonite Church USA. At the same time, I’m honored and challenged to make each convention a special time for each person attending. I’d love for each person to leave saying “Convention is the BEST THING EVER!”
MennoCon is a rich and valuable time to connect with people, learn and worship together!
It is a pathway to leadership and discipleship for many of our youth. And it is an exciting combination of faith formation, equipping, fellowship and delegate engagement.
As we embrace the growing edges of Mennonite Church USA, we want to encourage more youth of color to attend this event. Strengthening communities of color through our shared Anabaptist witness is a priority. Our goal for our next gathering in Cincinnati in 2021 is to provide 100 scholarships to enable youth of color to join us for this important faith formation event. We don’t want cost to prohibit anyone who wants to attend.
We invite you to support convention scholarships at http://mennoniteusa.org/give.