Come in, the show is free

Shared space an opportunity to welcome others

Jul 17, 2017 by

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Mennonite Church USA congregational membership and convention attendance are lower. It is apparent to anyone who has attended a denomination-wide gathering in the last two decades.

Some attendees surely lamented how Mennonites didn’t seem to invade and overwhelm convention facilities like in times past.

The Orange County Convention Center is already expansive and sprawling, and seemed still bigger because the Mennonites shared the space with other groups. There was a youth basketball tournament and a coin show. Hotels hosting MC USA folks were also serving large Catholic and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Several yearned for a more intimate and humble venue. It would have facilitated better friendships and required far less walking.

But what did speakers at worship services and seminars have to say? Love is a verb, something you do by reaching out to those around you and building authentic relationships.

“Maybe we’re not willing to make the time if that person doesn’t look like us or think like us,” said Maribel Ramírez Hinojosa during a worship service about loving neighbors. “. . . Or maybe we do it out of fear.”

One could look around the convention center, see the obvious interlopers dressing the wrong way and saying the wrong words, and connect only dots of disappointment.

Another perspective could interpret the same situation as a prepackaged mission field, topped with a shiny ribbon.

One morning I shared a hotel elevator with a man proudly wearing a bright orange blazer. The Florida United Numismatists logo on his breast pocket looked like he was a TV broadcaster for the Wide World of Coin Collecting. I asked how strong the market is for certain items, and he cheerfully kept the conversation going, all the way down and into the lobby. He invited me to come by and visit, because the coin show was free.

In that bustling and diverse hotel, my zeal for each and every one of God’s children probably didn’t match his zeal for coins. I had to ask myself if I was willing to wear a bright orange (plain) coat for Anabaptism, and whether I am content with the answer.

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