Mennonite Church USA convention: Put love in action

3,199 registered for Orlando 2017 assembly

Jul 4, 2017 by , and

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ORLANDO, Fla. — God’s unconditional love, first expressed through the gift of Jesus Christ, was the focus of the opening night of the Mennonite Church USA convention July 4 at the Orange County Convention Center.

Worship leaders emphasized being Christians of action under the theme, “Love Is a Verb.” But to fully understand how to turn a noun into a verb, worship co-leader Sarah Bixler of Princeton, N.J., used the metaphor of a dormant seed that must awaken roots before it can extend itself outward to others.

Convention participants take part in a prayer walk outside the Orange County Convention Center before the opening worship service. — Vada Snider for MWR

Convention participants take part in a prayer walk outside the Orange County Convention Center before the opening worship service. — Vada Snider for MWR

“Love is, before love does,” she said. “We are never too young or too old to hear about God’s love for us. This is a love that we cannot be separated from.”

But love is no simple thing.

“We also want to acknowledge this is a place of complexity,” said worship co-leader Shannon Dycus of Indianapolis. “Here families come from around the world to a magical place called Disney. . . . Here there is a tragic history of violence — from when Andrew Jackson worked to drive out the Seminoles to the Pulse [nightclub] shooting a year ago — we see violence and hate in this place.

“As Mennonite Church USA, we enter this place holding a complex mix of feelings about our church and our world. What does it mean for our peace church to meet in this place, and how will the Holy Spirit call us in this place to enter into love and action?”

Sharing greetings from Canada, Mennonite Church Canada executive director Willard Metzger echoed those complexities. He said growing secularism threatens to make Christians irrelevant as the gap between rich and poor widens and militarism is celebrated.

“I would say the church has never been more relevant,” he said. “Christ’s message of peace and servanthood is just what an ailing society needs. . . .

“We are glad that our sister church is in the United States, bearing witness to the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

As of Tuesday evening, registration was 3,199 total, with about 1,700 youth.

Youth: songs and tweets

On the opening night of the Youth Convention, worshipers sang a lot and tweeted a little, sharing their hopes for the week.

Some of their tweets were projected on a screen above the stage in the youth worship venue, Chapin Theater in the Orange County Convention Center:

“Getting closer to God and friends.”

“Let’s get some hymn sings going on!”

“To feel God in ourselves and everyone around us.”

And from a youth leader: “My youth says, ‘Finding my future husband.’ ” (There was context for this: Rachel Springer Gerber, one of the worship leaders, had said she met her future husband at the 1993 Mennonite Church convention.)

Calling herself a “convention junkie,” Gerber said she loves the closeness of her small congregation in Bloomington, Ind., but believes “something amazing happens when the big church gathers together.”

“Coming to a space like this, to convention, reminds me I’m not alone and am part of a bigger network of Mennonites and an even larger body of Christ,” she said.

Worship band leader Seth Crissman encouraged the youth to worship with a spirit of openness to a variety of music, no matter whether they were used to hymns or contemporary praise songs in their congregations back home. The seven-member band featured guitars, keyboards, drums, violin and, occasionally, accordion.

Jon Heinly, worship co-leader with Gerber, noted that the convention theme was “Love Is a Verb” but that “we are going to start with love as a noun” because that is the beginning: God is love, and we love because God first loved us.

During a roll call of states, youth cheered loudly for their home states — or, in the case of a contingent from Ontario, their province.

The convention continues with the first full day of activities July 5. Delegate sessions and the Future Church Summit, a time of setting priorities and direction for the denomination, begin July 6 and conclude July 8.

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