The 2012 national delegate convention deserves high marks
by Connie Faber
Highlights of Conection 2012 include moments of inspiration, encouragement and affirmation. And even in the glitches, we saw God at work.
The Aug/Sept issue of the Christian Leader will be mailed August 31 so that we can include a full report of Conection 2012, the biennial delegate convention held July 27-28 in Omaha, Neb. To whet your appetites for the complete story, here are my personal reflections on this two-day event. — Connie Faber, editor
A hot time: Even with a drop in temperature (from 104 degrees on Wednesday to 87 degrees on Friday), Omaha summers are hot—and humid according to delegates from the Pacific District Conference. But there was another kind of warmth evident at Conection 2012—plenty of hugs and handshakes. For many of those present, the call to be “one family” was a reality as friends became reacquainted and new relationships were formed. This was also a convention that wasn’t characterized by hallway discussions of dissent or frustration—another indication of the goodwill that marks this season in the life of USMB.
Telling our story: Many agency and ministry reports emphasized who we are as Mennonite Brethren but two telling’s are memorable. USMB Executive Director Ed Boschman’s passionate sermon Friday morning and its holistic picture of the six characteristics of our denomination was inspiring. The second stand out event was the screening of two video testimonies that prompted hallway affirmations. A total of three professionally filmed testimonies from USMB church members will be made available to all USMB congregations and can also be viewed online.
A candid assessment: Board of Faith and Life (BFL) chair Larry Nikkel’s frank comments were helpful in setting a positive tone for the upcoming BFL study conference on USMB Confession of Faith articles 12 (Society and State) and 13 (Love and Nonresistance.) Nikkel reported that delegates to the 2010 convention were asked to indicate for each of the 18 COF articles whether or not we “walk the talk.” Nikkel said, “Generally there was congruence between walk and talk. Then we got to article 13 and when the results flashed on the screen there was an audible response in the audience. There was a huge discrepancy. The Board of Faith and Life has taken that seriously.”
And so a study conference will be convened Jan. 24-26 to address these two articles.
“One of our core traditions is that we study the Bible, then we listen to each other and then come to a decision that we can agree on,” said Nikkel. “I am convinced that we can be one family if we work at these kind of issues in this way.” Emphasizing the importance of the January study conference, Nikkel said, “Of all the things that you should be praying about, this study conference is one of them.”
Tunes that touched: There were hymns, familiar worship songs and smooth jazz at Conection 2012—and the audience enthusiastically joined in worship no matter the style. A worship team directed by John Szablowski from The Bridge Bible Church in Bakersfield, Calif., led a stirring time of worship Friday morning and evening (pictured left). The Chad Stoner Band was in concert Saturday night and closed their set with a series of worship songs done in the group’s distinctive blend of smooth jazz with elements of gospel and rhythm and blues.
Service grins and groans: Thanks to Stephen Stout of Faith Bible Church and director of Good Neighbor Ministries for working so hard to facilitate a Friday afternoon service opportunity that put feet to the USMB mission statement that we partner together for the transformation of individuals, families and communities.
USMB volunteers at the Hope Center for Kids summer Olympics found them selves surrounded by enthusiastic kids from first grade to high school as the volunteers directed about a dozen contests that ranged from watermelon seed spitting (pictured right) to group puzzle setting and balloon popping. A pastor whose congregation sponsors six youth football teams and cheerleading squads was thankful for the help USMB volunteers provided in organizing about 160 football uniforms.
But not everyone was smiling when more than two-thirds of the 48 USMB volunteers who had indicated their intention to participate in Omaha service projects chose to do something else. While Stout was very gracious about the low turnout, he had the unenviable task of phoning service sites to say that no volunteers would be coming.
Baton hand-off: Fresno Pacific University had the unique opportunity to mark the transition in presidential leadership at the national gathering of its supporting churches. During the university’s report Saturday morning, retiring President D. Merrill Ewert literally passed the baton to incoming President Pete Menjares. Following the hand-off, FPU representatives and representatives from a rather wide variety of FPU partners surrounded Menjares and his wife, Virginia, for a time of prayer.
Praising God for USMB church plants: Mission USA has set a high goal for USMB church planting over the next decade: six church plants each year for the next 10 years and the resources to get it done. It is an astonishing goal for a small group of churches like ours. But the goal seems attainable after hearing of transformed lives and community outreach from the eight church planters who attended Conection 2012. It was inspiring to hear story after story of how church planters and their fledgling congregations are ministering in their communities and to individuals. The impact of the Mission USA report is hard to put into words—it’s one of those “you had to be there” occurrences at a national convention that energize those present. Photo: Delegates, some surrounding church planters, stand for a prayer empowering USMB church planters.
A million dollar budget: Delegates must have been convinced that increasing the USMB budget by 20 percent was a good idea because the budget passed unanimously with few questions asked. The $1 million budget includes increases in staffing, meetings, promotion and marketing, communication and social media, support for church plants and the 2013 BFL study conference. Delegates also approved a new “proportional funding model” that will hopefully expand the base of churches that fund USMB ministries.
Tears of laughter: Nationally known comedian Kenn Kington was back for a second appearance at a USMB national event. Kington entertained USMB pastors and their families six years ago at the National Pastors’ Conference in Boone, NC. Kington was a hit in 2006. Would he be funny the second time around? You bet! Kington’s signature facial expressions, his unique—and humorous—outlook on life along with his popular “isms” had the crowd laughing so hard they cried.
Movie musings: The only standing ovation of Conection 2012 went to Alex Kendrick, Sherwood Pictures writer and director, author and associate pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. As he told the story of how his church got into the movie business, Kendrick challenged delegates to pray and seek God’s favor as congregations and as individuals. “God wants you to go through a season of prayer,” said Kendrick. “Through this movie business I’ve learned that God loves to be sought.” He also encouraged his audience to dream big: “You can’t think big enough to out-think God.”
Sticker shock: At the end of the day, delegates and guests seemed to agree that their days in Omaha were worth the expense. The fellowship was nourishing, ministry reports were inspiring and our unique place in the landscape of United States church life was affirmed. But it was again evident that the financial costs of attending national conventions limit those in attendance to pastoral staff and agency representatives whose costs are covered by the local church and denominational ministries. My challenge to local congregations is to include in your budget funds to send several “pew people” to the 2014 convention. It is an investment that you won’t regret.