After months of planning and a series of unique pandemic-related challenges, Mennonite Church USA hosted MennoCon21 July 6-10 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Eastern Mennonite University is traditionally represented in strength and this year was no different, with faculty, staff and alumni in multiple roles among session presenters, participants, delegates and others who played a role in planning and volunteering.
Two EMU-connected folks were in very visible roles: Shannon Dycus, EMU’s dean of students, was chair of the worship committee, with Seth Thomas Crissman ’09, MDiv ’15, educator, pastor and writer/musician with the Walking Roots Band, also contributing.
“Convention is always an expression of community where we enjoy fellowship, shared worship and dialogue around how our faithfulness emerges,” Dycus shared in an email. “With the new realities of 2021, we leaned into community again – with worship and study that invites us to the transformation God is calling us to and the cautious but needed hugs that exchange warmth and care.”
This is the first year that the conference was in a hybrid format, including both in-person and virtual programming.
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 decision making. The 2021 Delegate Assembly featured a limited agenda and postponed major decisions for an in-person gathering at an unspecified date.
One agenda item was the confirmation of Jon Carlson, a current student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, as moderator-elect. He will hold this position for two years and then become moderator for 2023-25. Carlson is lead pastor of Forest Hills Mennonite Church in Leola, Pa., Atlantic Coast Mennonite Conference.
This is the second time youth participants, nominated by their congregation or conference, could serve as official voting delegates. The 2019 bylaw change and the MCUSA-sponsored program “Step Up” advanced from the advocacy of Leah Wenger ‘20, former EMU Student Government co-president. Under direction of Atlantic Coast conference coordinator Brook Musselman ‘12, it provides youth delegates with orientation and education around church business, networking opportunities, and leadership preparation.
EMU’s Director of Alumni and Parent Relations Jennifer North Bauman hosted two opportunities for alums to gather at the conference and off-site. “I’ve enjoyed worship, reconnecting with alumni and enjoying meaningful conversations, especially with those parents and other alums I had only met through Zoom over the past year or more,” she said. “We had over 45 alumni, friends and committed students gather for ice cream, hear an EMU update and engage with each other.”
Admissions staff, including Director of Admissions Matt Ruth, represented the university at the Mennonite Higher Education Association’s booth, which highlighted the five Mennonite colleges and universities. He also MC’ed a trivia night event. Also in attendance was graduate admissions representative Scott Eyre, who works specifically with prospective students investigating learning opportunities at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and the Center for Justice and peacebuilding.
The unique mission, vision and values of Mennonite colleges and universities was highlighted in a morning session for youth by Mennonite Mission Network’s Eric Frey Martin. These institutions have a common faith-derived and faith-inspired mission: to encourage young people to follow in Christ’s footsteps by developing an “attitude for service” and seeking shalom wherever they live. “What I’ve experienced in my own life through these institutions is that they are distinctly equipped to help shape people to go out and seek the shalom of the places where they are at,” Martin said. “And that the world is a better place because of the people who have come out from these institutions.” Read more of his message.
Also speaking specifically to youth was Brian Martin Burkholder, EMU university chaplain and director of faith and spiritual life. He offered a seminar “What’s Your Spiritual Type?” inspired in part by the book (and question) of the same name by Corrine Ware. “We all are unique, spiritually, and will express our spiritual selves in different ways — finding meaning in our faith and spiritual formation through different expressions,” Burkholder shared in a blog series posted by MCUSA about conference sessions. “One spiritual size does not fit all and never did. Do you know your dominant spiritual type and/or your blend of spiritual types and how best to express them?” Read more here.
Professor Benjamin Bergey, with committee member Katie Graber, also introduced the new Voices Together hymnal. Read more about Bergey’s role in this multi-year project here.
Professor Doug Graber Neufeld, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, joined Jennifer Halteman Schrock, director of Mennonite Creation Care Network, to host the panel discussion “Faith and Climate Change: Questions We’re Asking.” Both were also keeping a close eye on the progress of the CSCS-sponsored Climate Ride, a group of young cyclists who left Seattle in late May and are currently crossing Iowa, all the while engaging Anabaptist communities along the way on the topic of climate change.
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 website and schedule information.