There was a time in my life where I identified planning Convention as my “dream job.” There’s just something about the national gatherings that I find so appealing. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to catch up with friends and family members scattered across the country who are using their gifts in a variety of ministry settings. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to meet with others who share my beliefs and passions, connecting about similar struggles to apply faith to life in this time and place. Perhaps it’s the nourishment for my soul that comes from worshipping multiple times a day among a throng of believers. Perhaps it’s a little bit of all of these things…
So it was with a few mixed feelings that I received the news of my daughter’s due date. Sure, we were thrilled and indescribably grateful to find out that we were finally going to have a baby. This child had been long prayed for. But, with her arrival only two weeks before the Pittsburgh Convention, there was little hope that my streak of attendance would be kept alive. I confidently (and naively) told people that if she came early, I’d make the two hour drive over for at least one worship service.
Wichita 95 was my first convention experience, and I still remember feeling a bit nervous as we pulled away from the main Convention center on a steamy old school bus, headed for a college campus that was hosting the Junior High Convention. But, I also remember bursting with excitement at the end of the week; I couldn’t wait to share with my family about the great time I had getting to know other kids and worshipping in such a large group.
St.Louis 99 was the crucible for one of the most influential conflicts in my life. The growing tensions in leadership came to a head miles away from home. While the experience was very painful with far reaching effects into congregational life for the year to come, it was also the beginning of realizing God’s call in my life. It was in pouring my heart out before God in the convention hall, confused about why this hurt so much, that I first glimpsed some of the dreams that God has for me.
I have specific memories from the other Conventions, too. As I rehearse the cities I have visited, flashes of moments strike me: a smile recalling the faces of new friends, a blush of embarrassment about the adolescent “love” interests, the bone weary feeling of making it to the end of the week as a sponsor for youth, the feeling of comfort that rests in the soul hearing “Praise God” sung by thousands of voices, the prick of tears seeing my youth stream forward to commit their lives to Christ…
My daughter, Anna, demonstrated that she has a lot of her mother in her from the first pangs of labor. She arrived early and was so anxious to be in the world that she came via emergency c-section. Having major surgery (in addition to a newborn) put the kibosh on attending Pittsburgh. However, I was able to take in the delegate sessions via the digital delegate connection as I nursed, rocked and changed my baby in the comfort of my own home. While I missed connecting with old friends between sessions, meeting new people at my table group, and experiencing the worship times, it was wonderful to be connected to the content of the delegate times.
If you’ve never attend Convention, perhaps it’s difficult to understand the draw. Spending a week of “vacation” in meetings may not appeal to everyone, but I encourage you to give it a try. Being about the worshipful work of the kingdom is a worthy endeavor. Meeting people who are just like you and completely different from you, yet claiming the same faith tradition is deeply challenging and encouraging. Experiencing worship with thousands of others, dwelling in the Word, the opportunity for seminars, and connecting with our affiliated institutions, all assist in deepening faith and bonding us as the body of Christ.
Sherah-Leigh (Zehr) Gerber, works for Ohio Conference half-time as Coordinator of Volunteers, planning resourcing events and relating to the ministry teams of the Conference. A graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and Seminary, she has served in a variety of congregational and conference ministry positions. In addition to spending time with her family, Sherah-Leigh enjoys reading, baking and blogging about her kitchen adventures (www.shergerber.blogspot.com). She and her husband, BJ, live in Wayne County, Ohio with their daughter Anna. They attend Kidron Mennonite Church.