My first convention experience came in 1993 when I along with fifteen others packed into a fifteen passenger van and drove from Brownsville, Texas to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have mostly suppressed the memories of that drive but I have retained many of the memories of the convention itself. I remember it fondly because it was at the Philadelphia convention that I first felt like I was part of the Mennonite denomination. I remember that, at that particular moment, feeling like I was Mennonite was the most important thing in the world. It was really powerful to gather where I could talk about my faith so freely and where I could relate to people on issues of peace and justice along with how Christ was moving in my life.
Another thing I remember so fondly about that time is how naïve I was about everything. My main concern at the time was to fit in with the other high-school youth at convention. I remember being an arrogant sixteen-year-old who had his beliefs all figured out and I was ready to shoot down anyone that didn’t agree with me. However, like anything in life, you begin to want more than just fitting in. For me, that meant following God’s call into ministry.
In the past ten years I have been a conference youth pastor for Western District Conference, a program director for DOOR and director of Mennonite Voluntary Service for Mennonite Mission Network. All of these ministries have molded who I am and taught me many valuable lessons. My time serving in these various capacities has exposed me to a diversity of thought on a variety of issues.
But when there is diversity of thought there is always conflict. I say this as a confessional because too many times within the last ten years, I was a witness to and sometimes a participant in countless double standards and condemnations. Unfortunately I have seen that in this day and age we are less willing to listen and more willing to confront. I believe conflict is a good thing but only if there is room for diversity of thought to be allowed and respected.
I think that now more than ever we should be willing to put aside our egos and our unwillingness to compromise and find ways to understand each other instead of worrying about agreeing with each other. I value those in my life who think differently. These people are keeping me honest and helping me focus on who I am and why I believe in what I do. This coming convention in Phoenix is ripe with conflict and fear. This conflict can be detrimental to the health of the Church but it does not have to be. My prayer for this convention is that we allow ourselves the space to understand first and then worry about being understood.