2016_10_26_laura_hLaura Hartzler is the coordinator for children and families at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando, July 2017.

For many families where adults are attending Mennonite Church USA convention as delegates or youth leaders, it is important that convention also includes an incredible experience for children.

Children attending convention get to experience the large, diverse and exciting church that gathers at convention. Each time we have attended as a family, our children have built relationships with peers across the denomination and left with a love for the church beyond the walls of our house of worship.

My husband and I, as parents, have loved watching them grow through these experiences and have nurtured the relationships they gained. I love that my 11-year-old son now looks for friends from convention at church summer camp and youth choir festival. It is amazing that when we travel and visit another Mennonite church, how often our 11-year-old already knows someone from convention. These are relationships that will pull the denomination together for many years to come.

We have been busy youth sponsors at the last three conventions and we decided to bring our children along. We learned about our children’s experiences after picking them up from children’s convention each day (and sometimes we talked about their exciting activities many days later). We saw other families in passing or occasionally sat and chatted with others in the nursing room, but the relationship-building that our children were doing was largely without our participation.

We hope you will bring your children to Orlando 2017 to grow in their faith, build relationships and get caught up in the excitement of the denomination gathered together. We also want you to experience convention as a whole family.

We are designing children’s convention with many opportunities for parents and children to have fun together and for families to mingle with other families during these times.

In the morning, children will have worship together as well as visiting music, prayer, art and peace stations. Children will also have a chance each morning to visit the Recreation Hall and booths in the Exhibit Hall.

In the afternoon, families will be welcome to visit the children’s convention area for craft stations, stories, snacks, games, team building, hands on activities and more, all centered around the fun theme that changes daily. (Hint: You might want to bring your Santa hat for one of our afternoon themes.)  Children can experience these activities with their classmates and teachers from the morning sessions, but parents are also encouraged to experience the activities with their children and get to know the other families that are at convention.

Some other great opportunities for families to experience convention together include a worship service designed especially for families with children of all ages, seminars that focus on topics important to families with young children, and several early evening social events that will be geared toward families with young children.

Please watch for additional information about children’s convention in the coming months, and keep current on what is happening throughout the week with the daily newsletter we will be publishing.. The newsletter will share ‘news’ from the day at children’s convention such as the Bible verses being studied, events at convention to attend with your children, and tips to enhance your experience — possibly even coupons or information about local restaurants that offer specials for children.

I look forward to meeting you there!