Samuel Voth Schrag has served as the pastor of the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship since 2007. He has been involved in Mennonite institutions for his whole life. He served as youth pastor at Faith Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas, he is a graduate of AMBS and Bethel College, he grew up and was baptized at the Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church in Wichita, and he currently serves as a member of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board. Samuel lives in St. Louis with his wife Rachel and children Jonah and Hannah.

Mennonite Church USA national conventions have a very special place in my heart.

In 2001, I went to Nashville representing Bethel College, and dressed up as “Stony” the Threshing stone to proclaim the value of Mennonite Higher Education. I don’t know if anyone came to Bethel because of my efforts, but I loved getting the chance to meet hundreds of Mennonite youth in the College center.

In 2003, I went to Atlanta as a worship planner for the adult worship, and balanced the wonder of hearing speakers like Dorthy Nickel Friesen and President Jimmy Carter with the complete lack of sleep that the 24 hour schedule caused.

In 2005, I went to Charlotte as a youth pastor, and I still remember the joy of watching the youth group rush to the front row to sing and dance together, and the challenge of keeping 15 people organized.

Since then, I’ve gone to convention three times as a pastor and a member of Mennonite Church USA Executive board, and each year I’ve been delighted with the connections I’ve made, and the chance to watch the youth that I know and care for learn more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a Mennonite.

While Kansas City has it’s painful memories, my favorite memory is the prayer walk which opened the week, where the interracial youth group from St. Louis, made up of youth from the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship and Bethesda Mennonite church prayed with “Black Lives Matter” signs, in recognition of the racism that still mars our society, and our commitment to undoing racism and proclaiming justice for all of God’s children.

But as my church will tell you, my most significant convention experience was in St. Louis, in 1999, between my junior and senior years in High School. There I got to know a young woman from the Southern Hills Mennonite Church when our groups hung out one afternoon. We hit it off, and spent the week walking around the convention center and the St. Louis Arch grounds, talking about family, God, debate, books and life. Six years later, in the summer of 2005, I married Rachel, and two years after that I was called to be pastor of the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship.

I don’t expect that most people who come to convention will find their life partner there. But I do hope that everyone who joins me in Orlando will be touched by God’s Holy Spirit, will feel the joy of joining peace loving Christians from around the country in praise of Jesus, and I am confident that everyone who comes will have the opportunity to let God transform their lives.