George MacDonald is keynote speaker
by Connie Faber
The 2009 Southern District Conference (SDC) convention held July 31 through Aug. 2 at Westside Family Church in Lenexa, Kan., continued to build on a family-friendly approach, high on inspiration and low on business, introduced at the 2007 summer convention.
While conducting official business was limited to a lunch hour, the convention program and theme, “Better Together,” reinforced the district’s three-pronged commitment to church planting, church health and discipleship across the generations.
Author, speaker and pastor Gordon MacDonald spoke three times from his most recent book,Who Stole My Church. He began by noting the constantly changing world, describing it as “living in the midst of a novel…wondering if things will ever be solid again.” MacDonald encouraged attendees to be “custodians of God’s call in changing times” and offered suggestions for how attendees could accept this challenge individually and corporately. Worship sessions also included singing led by Vaughn Jost of Trailhead Church, a Mennonite Brethren church plant in Centennial, Colo.
Church planting was the focus Saturday evening and Sunday morning when the convention moved to Swope Park, a large, heavily-wooded city park that, among other attractions, hosts the Kansas City Zoological Park where the SDC evening meal and Church Extension and Evangelism Commission (CEEC) program were held. Church planters Jeff Nikkel, Centennial, Colo., and Paul Bartel and Jason Phelps, both of Kansas City, gave testimonies. Eduardo Garcia spoke about an emerging Hispanic work in central Oklahoma. Mission USA director Don Morris closed the evening with a prayer of blessing for these SDC outreach efforts. The SDC has partnered with Mission USA, the denomination’s national church planting and renewal ministry, in the Colorado and Missouri projects.
Convention attendees returned to Swope Park for a Sunday morning service led by Paul and Amanda Bartel and Jason and Nancy Phelps, two couples who recently moved to the Brookside/Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City, Mo., to plant a Mennonite Brethren church there. After the worship time, the group of about 175 people chose between three options designed to give them the opportunity to serve and/or learn about the neighborhood: volunteering at a HIV/AIDS care center, touring the community from a missionary’s point of view and doing a prayer walk.
The highly successful SDC youth program was highlighted Friday evening when Wendell Loewen was honored with a reception recognizing his 10 years of service as the first SDC youth pastor. Loewen has resigned due to a change in his assignment at Tabor College and the future of the part-time position was the focus of one of nine breakout sessions offered in two timeslots Saturday morning.
Other workshops highlighted various Mennonite Brethren ministries and SDC commissions. MB Biblical Seminary, MB Foundation, Mission USA, MBMS International, Tabor College, R & R Retreats, the SDC Stewardship Commission and the SDC CEEC Commission provided workshops.
During the Saturday noon business session, attendees approved the budget and elected commission members. A new district logo was unveiled Friday evening. Printed reports from agencies and SDC commissions were included in the convention packet and brief videos from Mennonite Brethren ministries were shown throughout the convention.
Childcare was arranged on-site by Westside Family Church for the 31 children under 12 years. Jana Peyton and Brandon Voth organized primarily off-site activities for the 11 teenagers who were present. Saturday evening the children joined their parents for a private show in the zoo’s sea lion exhibit, and during dinner animal handlers circulated with their animals, entertaining and educating the group.
Prior to the district convention, 100-some SDC pastors and family members met at Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites, Overland Park, Kan., for a retreat with formal and informal opportunities for pastors to be together for play, renewal, conversation and prayer. Resource speakers Gordon and Gail MacDonald shared from their own experiences on the topic, “The Private Life of Public People.” Participants gave the retreat high marks, says district minister Tim Sullivan, and the MacDonald’s input had much to do with its success.
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