I have attended many conference assemblies over the past 45 years, most of them actually in other Mennonite conferences. Sometimes I was the moderator, sometimes I waited with bated breath to see if there would be any time for me as a church-wide staff person to report on the denominational work I was employed to do. This time I attended as a part-time staff person, no longer in the leadership loop. I went like most other delegates, not sure what would take place, and to some extent waiting to be proved it was worth my time to be there. To be sure I had a couple of particular responsibilities, so others may find it hard to believe I had any sense of being outside the loop. But too a degree I saw the Assembly from another vantage point. And I came away pleased and positive about the whole experience. Maybe you expected me to say that. But I honestly did not know what to expect.
I appreciate the effort to have urban and international voices lead our worship on the first night, even if it wasnâ€™t especially to my liking. Mostly I applaud the worship for stretching our categories about what it means to worship God. To imagine some dear folks standing on that platform for 24 hours engaging in worship, even into the wee hours of the morning when right-minded people are in bed, really impresses me. So much of our worship is a performance, done with class to impress others. To worship when the only audience is God puts it in a different perspective. It makes a point that hopefully is not lost in our congregations. Not that we lose any sense of doing worship well (I still have that need) but that we do not worship so much for the comfort of those gathered around us, but for the Lord who created and redeemed us and deserves/desires our worship. That is a lesson for me from this Assembly.
A second observation arises from the so-called â€œbusiness sessionâ€ Saturday morning. To my recollection only one decision was made, and that to update our Conference by-laws. I can anticipate some people wondering if it was worth being together with no hot issues that resulted in divisive debate and strenuous efforts to reach consensus. I well remember the days when Assembly was accorded a high mark for generating lots of heat, if little light. This session was such a contrast. There was focus on important agenda, most of it dealt with the future rather than the past, and was done in a positive spirit. At least that is how I experienced it, and I am aware my stance as a staff person hardly makes me unbiased. I do know where my check comes from! But it is worth noting we have moved from the old paradigm of tedious reports and fruitless debate to focused direction-setting for the future. I for one am glad.
Given the high degree of transition we are in as staff in Franconia Conference, and the occasional rumbles from the churches about where everything is going, I need to say I was impressed with the quality of leadership at the Assembly, and the very positive spirit among the delegates. I missed singing hymns, only one to my count. Others may have had more substantive disappointments. But we are finding our way around the missional emphasis as we navigate into the 21st century and it wonâ€™t be like previous Assemblies; maybe never again. But the same God that led us in the past will continue to lead us into the future. And for that I am grateful and want to praise God.