Mennonites from around the globe meet in U.S.

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USMB one of four conferences that hosted Pennsylvania 2015

By Connie Faber

Seventy U.S. Mennonite Brethren were among the more than 7,500 people from 65 countries that traveled to Harrisburg, Pa., to attend the 16th Assembly of Mennonite World Conference (MWC), held July 21-26 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex.

 MWC is a community of Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and related churches around the world that link to one another for fellowship, worship, service and witness. Every six years, MWC members gather for a global conference. This was the first time since 1978 that U.S. churches hosted the global assembly.

Since MWC was begun in 1925, Mennonite Brethren have served MWC in a variety of leadership positions. The MWC general secretary is currently Cesar Garcia, a Mennonite Brethren from Colombia.

 

USMB one of four hosts

As one of the four Anabaptist conferences in the United States that is member of MWC, the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (USMB) was an official host of Pennsylvania 2015. Other U.S. members are the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S., Conservative Mennonite Conference and Mennonite Church USA. Representatives from the host conferences brought greetings throughout the assembly and hosted the morning sessions.  

Clyde Ferguson, a Mennonite Brethren from Lenoir, NC, was among the representatives from district/regional conferences of the host denominations that welcomed attendees at the opening session. Ferguson spoke on behalf of the USMB North Carolina District Conference, the only USMB district conference east of the Mississippi. Ferguson, a bass guitar player, was also a member of the PA 2015 international instrumental ensemble.

Don Morris, the USMB interim executive director, was the emcee Friday morning. “This is a great portrait of what heaven will be like,” said Morris as he greeted the crowd. Reading Ephesians 1:18-20, Morris emphasized the importance of witnessing to “the power of the resurrection available to us.”

 

Typical day at Assembly 16

Morning and evening sessions featured speakers from around the world who explored the assembly theme of “Walking with God.” Each day focused on a specific aspect of the theme, featured one of the four MWC commissions and highlighted music from one of five continents: Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and North America.

MWC provided age-appropriate programs for children and youth who attended PA 2015. Children started the day with their parents in the plenary session, singing with the international ensemble, and then spent the rest of the morning and afternoon in a program that incorporated Bible stories, games, service projects and other activities the followed the theme of walking with God. They joined their families for dinner and the evening worship service. A similar program was provided each morning for youth ages 12 to 17 following the plenary session singing time. Youth were encouraged to take advantage of the many afternoon activities and also attended the evening worship service.

All PA 2015 adult participants were assigned to a friendship group that met following the morning session. The groups were provided with discussion questions about the morning session and were encouraged to pray and share with one another.

Assembly participants had a variety of activities to choose from during afternoons at PA 2015. Workshops were scheduled for two timeslots Wednesday through Saturday afternoons. Valerie Rempel, associate dean of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, Fresno, Calif., and Peggy Goertzen, director of the Center for MB Studies at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kan., were among the workshop presenters.

People who wanted to better appreciate the culture and church life of Anabaptists around the world could visit the Global Church Village. Large tents featured displays from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America while the Global Church Village Stage offered music, drama and dance performances.  

A variety of tours to numerous sites of interest and significance throughout central Pennsylvania were available. Or participants could volunteer for afternoon service opportunities throughout the Harrisburg area. Volunteers could also work onsite, helping to build a Mennonite Disaster Service house, can beans and make comforters with Mennonite Central Committee. The first Anabaptist World Cup took place at a near-by park.

Meals were provided onsite by Centerplate, the food service supplier at the Farm Show Complex. More than 1,000 guests were lodged in about 350 homes while residence halls at Messiah College in nearby Grantham, Pa., and 25 hotels housed the remaining participants. Many traveled between their overnight lodging and the Farm Show Complex each day via shuttle bus. While both the food service and shuttle system initially experienced delays, both became more efficient as the week progressed.

 

Mennonite Brethren participation

Mennonite Brethren from outside North America participated in the PA 2015 program in a variety of ways. In addition to MWC’s Garcia who gave the opening sermon Tuesday afternoon, Nzuzi Mukawa, a Mennonite Brethren pastor and educator from DR Congo, preached Thursday night on “Walking in conflict and reconciliation.”

Nina Marie Horsch from Germany sang with the international ensemble and played a violin solo Friday evening. MB pastor and theologian Alfred Neufeld from Paraguay was a workshop presenter. Johann Mathies from MB Mission served as the interpreter for Roman Rakhuba, a MB pastor from Ukraine who was featured in the Global Church Village storytelling tent Saturday afternoon.

The United States had the largest number of registrants, 3,931, followed by Canada with 1,162. Other leading countries included Zimbabwe with 265, India with 250, Congo with 215, the Netherlands with 125, Germany with 112, Mexico with 106 and Switzerland with 97.

The majority of participants from the U.S. and Canada were members of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. Attendees from most of the other seven North American Anabaptist groups represented only zero or one percent of the conference membership, including USMB, with a total of 70 participants or one percent of membership. The Canadian Conference of MB Church was the exception with 2 percent of membership or 124 attendees. 

Coverage of Mennonite World Conference assembly events is provided by members of Meetinghouse, a group of Mennonite publications. The Meetinghouse team in Harrisburg included Connie Faber of the Christian Leader; Paul Schrag, Tim Huber and Kelli Yoder of Mennonite World Review; Gordon House and Anna Groff of The Mennonite (Mennonite Church USA), Virginia A. Hostetler of Canadian Mennonite (Mennonite Church Canada), Lil Goertzen of the Recorder (Evangelical Mennonite MIsison Conference), freelance writer Doreen Martens and freelance photographer Dale. D. Gehman. 

Photos by Dale D. Gehman for Meetinghouse.

Photo 1: The large arena at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pa., was full for the MWC Assembly evening worship services. Each day the international ensemble led the crowd in singing songs from a different continent.

Photo 2: USMB was one of four U.S. conferences that hosted PA 2015. Representatives from each conference emceed the morning plenary sessions. Don Morris, USMB interim executive director, represented U.S. Mennonite Brethren.

Photo 3: Who would have guessed that Jon and Ellyne Wiebe, foreground, of Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro, Kan., would be caught by Meetinghouse photographer Dale G. Gehman as he photographed MWC participants walking the halls of the Farm Show Complex.

Photo 4: Nina Marie Horsch, a Mennonite Brethren from Germany, played a violin solo Friday evening as part of the focus on music from Europe. Horsch is an accomplished muscian who regularly participates in national competitions.

 

 

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