Kent Miller is a pastor at First Mennonite Church in Middlebury, Indiana, where he focuses on worship, preaching, crises and senior care. He and his spouse, Jill, enjoy spending time with people, especially their two daughters, son-in-law, three grandchildren and extended family.
Can I be honest for a moment? I didn’t care for extended family reunions when I was a kid. My parents took my sister and me to them occasionally as we were growing up, but as I recall, I really did not want to go hang out with people I didn’t know. To my surprise, however, there was nearly always someone that I recognized or knew from school or even from my own church! I had no idea that I was related to so many people!
I had a similar experience when Mennonite churches in our area gathered the various Mennonite Youth Fellowship (MYF) groups together, and I had no idea who would be there — at least for the first time. I didn’t REALLY want to go and neither did my friends, but then almost miraculously, we found out there were other Mennonite youth at your own school! We weren’t alone as a youth group in this incredible journey as Anabaptist youth!
In both cases, whether at a family reunion or a youth gathering, there were big surprises and blessings because we connected with others beyond our own front door!
This is an image I bring with me whenever we gather as a local conference and as we plan to gather next summer in Orlando as a denomination. It’s like an amazing family reunion where I get to see sisters and brothers in Christ whom I have known for years, and I am able to meet other siblings in the faith for the first time! Friendships are rekindled and new friendships are formed that can have lasting impacts on each of our faith journeys for years to come!
When we gather in Orlando, we will get to share stories with each other around the convention theme, “Love is a verb” and hear about the ways that we have been actively loving people into the family of God and loving those who are already part of the family! And like any family reunion, we will reminisce about the glory days and the struggles of the past. We will also be saddened by the memory of those who are no longer with us and those who missed this year’s gathering. In addition to storytelling that happens at reunions, there will also be time for some great sing-a-longs!
I have the privilege of helping to lead those sing-a-longs during our worship experiences in Orlando. What a great time it will be to sing some of the beloved hymns that so many of us know and appreciate, and also to learn new songs and styles that broaden our musical horizons. I’m so excited to be part of this amazing family reunion, and experience all of the highs and lows that come both in our music, and in our conversations with one another.
Be sure to bring your stories of active love to share with me and all those gathered in Orlando!
I hope to see you next summer, as we discover the surprises and blessings awaiting us! See you in July!