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Walking with each other in unity, diversity

Why PA 2015 reminded me of family reunions

by Connie Faber

PA 2015 was my first Mennonite World Conference (MWC) assembly, and after listening to other editors talk with such enthusiasm about their experiences attending and reporting on these global gatherings held every six years, I was excited to experience one for myself. And in many ways it was what I expected: an amazing week of joyful worship and warm fellowship with brothers and sisters from around the world. You can read all about it online at

I also began to understand why some U.S. Mennonite Brethren are hesitant to embrace this global fellowship. MWC member conferences are diverse in theology and culture. What is the best way to respond to the sometimes-significant differences in faith and life that we find among this group? To rephrase the PA 2015 theme: How do we faithfully walk with God and each other in diversity and unity? 

The MWC website describes its assemblies as “reunions” of the worldwide Mennonite-Anabaptist family, but given its diversity, is MWC our family? Do U.S. Mennonite Brethren really belong to this “communion” of conferences and denominations?

In her article on the birth of Anabaptism, MB historian Valerie Rempel reminds us that the answer is yes. Our roots as Mennonite Brethren are in this 16th century movement—as are the origins of the many varieties of Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, Amish and Hutterites around the world. So from an historical perspective the people I spent five days with at PA 2015 are my spiritual relatives.

As I pondered how comfortable and sometimes uncomfortable I was at this MWC family reunion, I thought about my experiences with personal family gatherings. I have attended enough family reunions to know that I don’t always feel like I have much in common with extended family members other than a shared great or even great-great grandparent. We don’t look much alike. We come from various parts of the country and have been shaped by differing life experiences. Our beliefs and values don’t always match up. But go back six or even seven generations, and we realize that although we are a diverse group of people we are all nurtured by the same family tree.

So thinking about our spiritual heritage in the same way, I concluded that being somewhat uneasy with all the diversity found in the global Anabaptist-Mennonite family is ok. Its only natural that this type of diversity has emerged over the past 500 years as the Anabaptist family has grown to 2.12 million baptized Anabaptists living in 87 countries. Given its age, the Anabaptist family tree should be a big tree with lots of branches. And as we do in our personal families, it also seems natural to gather as an extended spiritual family on occasion to celebrate our shared heritage. And that’s what we did this past summer. It’s also important to develop and nurture close ties with our immediate family and that is what we’ll do next summer when USMB holds its national convention July 27-30, 2016 in Denver, Colo. So plan now to come to the USMB gathering and celebrate what God is doing in our 200-some churches. Come worship and fellowship with your family. 

Photo caption by Dale D. Gehman: Members of the global Mennonite-Anabaptist family parade into the arena during the opening worship service at PA 2015.

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