What we can learn from Celebration 2010
By Connie Faber
In so many significant ways Celebration 2010 was a success and commendation is due the conference staff that organized the various components and the volunteers that helped it run so smoothly.
The facilities and food at the various sites were excellent. There were few administrative oversights. The complimentary shuttle service was a blessing. Emcees Valerie Rempel and Steve Berg did a great job and provided continuity throughout the week. Renewing Identity and Mission sessions were well done.
Binational evening celebration services—North American testimonies, enthusiastic congregational singing and challenging international guess speakers—were inspiring. The reports from various MB ministries, including the multi-media components, were outstanding. Displays by denominational and inter-Mennonite agencies added a nice touch; the resources offered by Kindred Productions were appreciated. Experience Vancouver provided valuable insights into urban church planting. Children and teens that attended were well cared for.
Given the good experience offered by this historic anniversary celebration, it is sad and disappointing that more of us weren’t there. I can offer a string of likely reasons for low numbers but the bottom line is that we are not engaged as churches and as individuals in the broader Mennonite Brethren church. We don’t see the value in attending denominational gatherings. If we did, we’d find the money and time to be present.
A generation ago people attended denominational events out of a sense of duty and discovered something of great value in the process—and it kept them coming back. I think the inherent value of denominational events remains the same. The importance of face-to-face fellowship is huge. It confirms that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and local efforts to make a difference in the world for Christ and his kingdom.
Give yourself the opportunity to get hooked on denominational events. Some district conferences are having conventions this year. Plan to attend the next district convention and Conection 2012, to be held in Omaha, Neb. Talk with leaders in your congregation about designating church funds to cover some or all event costs.
While we must take responsibility for attending—or not attending—events like Celebration 2010, conference leaders are responsible for offering events worth our attendance. We learned some things at Celebration 2010 that can help guide planning for future occasions.
Organizers expected Renewing Identity and Mission (RIM) to attract fewer people than it did and the Celebration 2010 binational sessions to draw more. This suggests that we North American MBs are more interested in talking about our beliefs, history and identity in a environment that assumes our active participation than we are in listening to reports and conducting business in a setting where delegates have limited opportunities to engage in debate and conversation. I encourage U.S. Conference leaders, including the Board of Faith, to offer occasions for us to interact with one another in meaningful ways about what we believe and how we live.
There were moments during RIM workshops when a presenter or attendee spoke about a time in the past 150 years when Mennonite Brethren made mistakes—when we made poor theological decisions, when our beliefs played out badly in the life of the church, when we didn’t deal with conflict well, when we were prideful and arrogant. I found these moments refreshing. When our corporate gatherings embrace the hard things, our times together have greater depth. We should balance times of celebration with acknowledgements of painful times when we fell short of the calling of true believers.
One of the specific Celebration 2010 attendance goals was to grow the number of young adults, and so organizers waived registration fees for a limited number of young adults and provided times for them to interact with one another during their free time. While there are certainly benefits to connecting with peers, feedback suggests that young adults value interacting with the more experienced convention goers. As work begins on the 2012 USMB convention, let’s avoid facilitating something that looks like an under-30 clique. Let’s give the young and old opportunities to rub shoulders with one another and create ways for seasoned conference-goers to mentor newcomers.
Celebration 2010 was a wonderful celebration of the past 150 years and it can become a springboard for our future. When those of us who sit in the pews attend denominational events, we experience a first-hand connection to God’s work in the world. When event planners ask delegates to work together as young and old and to do more than rubber-stamp decisions, our corporate gatherings are infused with meaning.