The gift of conversations at Assembly PA 2015
Friendship Groups and Activities
There were so many great things about the Mennonite World Conference [Assembly, PA 2015]. This was my first time going, and I really appreciated the worship sessions, especially the diversity. (I had no idea what Japanese worship was like!) But perhaps the most important reason I wanted to go to [PA 2015] was to meet and interact with Mennonites from around the world. Two of the best places to have conversations were in the friendship groups and the activities.
Every day after the opening worship time, we were invited to join a friendship group. The first few times we met, the conversation was very cautious as we tried to get to know each other. We were given questions to discuss, which helped. But toward the end of the week, the questions got our group thinking about a controversial topic. After the amazing worship all week, I was curious to see how our group (four Canadians and one Filipino) would handle this. I was disappointed. You could almost see the relational barriers, that had been so cautiously breaking down, going right back up as the group sorted itself into theological camps.
There is no way that in 30 minutes or so this theological issue was going to be resolved. But that didn’t stop people from bringing out their favourite Bible verses and theologies, which I’m sure everyone had heard before. What could have been an opportunity to reaffirm the things we held in common and commit to remaining in fellowship while holding on to our particular beliefs had turned into a simmering “agree to disagree.”
But friendship groups were just one part of the day. On the first full day of [Assembly], I went on a hike on a section of the Appalachian trail. Most of us didn’t know each other, and everyone was so focused on the footing that we were about halfway up the trail before I noticed that no one was really talking. At one break, I finally struck up a conversation with a woman from the UK who works with the Anabaptist Network. It was great to talk with her, since I had read The Naked Anabaptist a few years ago. We talked about a number of topics, including the different ways that our countries remember war veterans and the various responses that peace churches have given.
On the way down, I began a conversation with a seminary student from the USA. He, like me, was a late convert to the Anabaptist tradition, and we talked about our experiences. He had come from the Pentecostal tradition and sometimes missed the emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Though I don’t come from the Pentecostal tradition, I could understand this feeling. He also recommended an author whom I will read. These were two uplifting moments of conversation and solidarity on the mountain.
In my friendship group and in the activities, I experienced two different kinds of conversation: guided and natural. Both had their merits, but the conversations that arose while we were doing things together naturally – on the bus back to the hotel, around the meals, and on the mountain – are where relationships and understanding were built. And for me that’s what going to Mennonite World Conference [Assembly] was all about.
This reflection was part of September 2015 issue of Lendrum Grace Notes, “Mennonites: A Global Family.” Click here to see the whole magazine.
*Join with the global Anabaptist family as we continue to celebrate the PA 2015 theme, Walking with God, through World Fellowship Sunday in January, 2016. Click here to see resources for your congregation.