Planners for the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Kansas City carefully assigned delegates to tables of eight or nine persons to reflect both geographical and viewpoint diversity.
None of us at Table 22 knew each other beforehand, but the preliminary conversations around the table went at ping-pong speed as we quickly established commonalities and relationships.
The tables bonded well, which led to respectful, fruitful sharing. Our table, like many others, occasionally leaned in after the close of a business meeting to continue a discussion.
We took turns replenishing our table’s chocolate, which we found so necessary to complete seven hours of table work each day. And when, before a discussion leading to a particularly difficult vote, the delegates were invited to sing “Oh Lord, hear my prayer.” Our table sang communally, “When we call, answer us.”
Whereas before I might have been more sanguine regarding current events, it is now painful to contemplate that some at our table may no longer, in the near future, be part of the Mennonite Church USA body.
While Kansas City had felt very weighty, the Mennonite World Conference gathering several weeks later in Harrisburg, Pa., was a delicious mix of reveling in the fellowship of the worldwide Anabaptist body and celebrating our oneness through world music and worship.
Every day at meals and worship, we met Anabaptists from different countries. Reunions abounded: several in our 1970 Brussels/Zaire MCC unit caught up. We met the children of friends whose wedding shower we had planned. I witnessed a joyous reunion as a delegate pulled aside a woman passing by whom he recognized as one of the missionaries of his African youth. Once while on an afternoon excursion, a Canadian teenager whom I had last seen when she was six, recognized me!
At the Mennonite Church USA Convention, there were twice as many youth as adults. They seemed to me to be intent on bridging the differences roiling the adults. We were admonished at a combined worship session that a church needs to play together and that community exists because we love each other.
At Mennonite World Conference, the young Anabaptists reminded us that not only are the children listening, but they are often the ones who are trapped in the middle of church conflict. I see great hope as God works through these, our youth, whom we have raised, trained and who are now giving back to us a theology of one fellowship.