EMU @ #MennoCon19

Eastern Mennonite University was well-represented at the July 2-6 Mennonite Church USA convention, aka MennoCon19.

The Mennonite Higher Education Association, including EMU and other Mennonite colleges and universities, co-sponsored giveaways and a photo booth for prospective students. (Photo by Macson McGuigan)

President Susan Schultz Huxman was among several administrators, faculty and staff to travel to Kansas City, Missouri, for the multi-day event. Huxman arrived early for meetings and listening sessions with Mennonite Higher Education Association, Mennonite Education Association and Mennonite Schools Council. During the conference, she provided a university update at a evening alumni reception.

The biennial conference, which is often preceded by other meetings of Mennonite organizations, gathers church representatives and members for worship, fellowship and learning, as well as for more formal discernment and decisionmaking.

EMU student’s advocacy leads to youth delegate vote

One such decision ⁠— delegates voted on a bylaw change allowing youth participants to serve in future conferences as official voting delegates ⁠— was in response to advocacy from the group Step Up, founded by EMU senior and Student Government Association Co-President Leah Wenger.

“The program is designed to educate young people about church business, encourage them to listen and learn from those around them, provide them places and people to network with, prepare them to become future leaders, and to promote participation in the larger church delegate body,” Wenger said. In additional to serving as a delegate from Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Wenger worked with three others, including Lorren Oesch ’19 to organize orientation for the youth participants and additional programming throughout the week.

Read more about Leah Wenger and her advocacy for youth involvement in the church.

The conference is also a meeting place for youth and young adult groups. EMU admissions staff, including Director of Admissions Matt Ruth ’06, represented the university at the Mennonite Higher Education Association’s booth, which highlighted the academic offerings of the five Mennonite colleges and universities.

Faculty, joined by alumni, engage and teach

Sarah Bixler ‘02, Eastern Mennonite Seminary faculty member, was the convention’s prayer coordinator and co-led, with Hendy Stevan Matahelemual MA ’19 (leadership), a daily evening prayer session focused on the church. She also was involved in four workshop sessions, including two that she co-led with her husband Ben Bixler ’03, MA ‘13 (religion) that explored “R-rated” scripture texts in the youth ministry context and Bible study in the congregation.

Eastern Mennonite Seminary dean Nancy Heisey MDiv ’94 led her workshop participants in new ways of presenting biblical stories and broader biblical themes to audiences who bring no previous familiarity to their learning.

Emeritus Professor Dorothy Jean Weaver ’72 hosted three New Testament study workshops engaging with perspectives on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, stories of resilience, and the theme of power in the Gospel of Matthew. Read more about Weaver’s scholarly work on this topic.

With growing interest in the new Voices Together hymnal, music editor and new music professor Benjamin Bergey ’11 co-led three sessions with general editor Bradley Kauffman in anticipation of the 2020 release. He also joined a co-presenter to discuss how the 20 songs from the contemplative Taize community that are included in the hymnal might be integrated into regular and Taize-style worship.

The Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions came prepared to engage and share its vision. The center co-hosted a networking event for young adults with Mennonite Creation Care Network, joining current college students with recent graduates to explore issues and encourage active engagement through their churches.

Executive director Doug Graber Neufeld, a biology professor at EMU, also hosted a general interest meeting, with a special invitation for those wanting to explore ways that congregations can engage with climate issues.

Climate Future Fellows Michaela Mast, Harrison Horst and Sarah Longenecker, all 2018 EMU graduates, shared about their experiences producing two seasons of the “Shifting Climates” podcast. Read more here.

One workshop presenter didn’t have to travel far. Annette Lantz Simmons, a graduate of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its 2018 Peacebuilder of the Year, led a workshop on trauma, resilience and leadership. Simmons, a certified STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience) trainer, is executive director of the Center for Conflict Resolution in Kansas City (which also employs three other CJP graduates).

A number of EMU alumni, too many to list in this article, contributed to activities and/or were delegates or participants at the conference. The information in this article was compiled from the MennoCon program book.