I must admit that this is my first convention, and I’m entering with as much anticipation as I am speculative of what to expect. The words you read from me will be very distant of a typical, convention experience, and more an invitation to join me on mine as I experience it! I’ll do my best to listen to others share with me what brings them here and what pulls and tugs at them, and with their permission bring that to the common surface, but mostly, you get to take this Mennonite ride with me, and experience it in all its glory. Welcome to my world!
I was feeling hopefully positive that I’d experience a warm environment when I sat down at a pre-event dinner table. I approached a circle table choosing the last available seat. I recognized some faces, and instead of being my normal self of taking the initiative to introduce myself, I decided to sit there posed to belong. They knew each other, but I soon recognized that I was invisible. No one said a word to me. Even the gentlemen sitting exactly next to me barely looked in my direction even though I noticed that he was watching my activity. Now, this isn’t fair at all to put it on the others to say hello but this entire experience had me thinking about hospitality at a convention-level event.
I jumped into line for dinner when I was gently eavesdropping in the convo in front of me. Suddenly one person turned and introduced herself to me with much enthusiasm, it startled me a bit. I was grateful for the “hello” since she’d be the first stranger who’d do so. After our proper introduction, she invited me to move ahead of her in line for dinner separating herself from her group, and I stopped to ask her, why? We were equally hungry, and why would she invite me to eat before her? Again the question of hospitality was greatly at play. She had lived in Phoenix before, and it was a great sense of pride that placed her into that role of host before her Mennonite brothers and sisters.
Within both of these experiences, I’m wondering… who are the “hosts” of this event and consequentially who are the “guests”? It’s easy for all of us mostly being from long distances and not being in a Mennonite city to consider ourselves as guests here. “The leadership of MCUSA organized it, and therefore they must be the convention hosts.”
I’d like to invite you who are with me in Phoenix to consider this a bit more deeply and openly as I ask you to join me as I try to describe what I see present among us.
We have a large number of Mennonites who are so excited to see friends of many generations and/or be reunited with those with whom they haven’t seen in 2 or 4 years depending on which convention they were last present. They’ve been to convention their entire life or for decades. I was blessed to hear the excitement as one such reunion happened at registration. This convention holds for them the “family reunion” appeal.
Then there are those of us that traveled with a church group or into a group volunteer position. They have a job to do, and sticking tightly together will make their work successful for this week or for what they hope to see happen when they return.
On the other hand, there are those who travel alone or with a partner, and they don’t know anyone. They come to make friends.
Equally for some, this is their first convention. In line at registration, I met a gentleman in this exact situation. A Mennonite for many years but his wife’s work brought him here for the first time. With either of these, would you notice who they are?
And then there are those of us that you’d more than likely notice… that we actually are different than the majority maybe by race or culture or language. It’s easy to perceive that our inherent differences have the potential of keeping us from coming together.
And did you know that there are some that are here who chose to come even as their people disapproved or disagreed with them attending? They made a choice that potentially alienates themselves from their community.
I’m sure there are more categories present, but looking at this simple list, I ask, who are the hosts and who are the guests? It’s statistically likely that if you’re reading this and you’re at Phoenix that you are a host even though you traveled from a faraway city like Goshen and have spent a small fortune to be here and this is your 10th convention… you are a host to a sizable group of us.
But even if my Mennonite brothers and sisters are innocent to their role as hosts at their denominational event, I’m determined to make this event what I want it to be for me. I’ll extend hospitality when I need it for myself. Whomever you are, I invite you to do the same. We are each others hosts, and only in that way will we have the unity and love that we desire, and for the many that have been or are marginalized, they may be brought into a shared experience this week. Bless you all!