This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

10 reasons attending Western District Conference mattered to me

1. I was impressed with the pastors of Western District Conference. Some are new to me — but they are talented, gifted and delightful! I laughed with them; I struggled when some spoke of despair and loss of members. WDC invests in its pastors with resourcing, financial support and mentoring.

2. I prayed, sang, listened and practiced speaking languages other than English. I couldn’t quite get the Garifuna dialect; I got better with Spanish; I only spoke at my delegate table when the “talking stone” was in my hand — measured language.

3. I heard the stories from 125 years ago telling the incredible story of migrant groups gathering to be God’s people in the heartland. What language should we speak? Where should we train our pastors? What education institutions do we build? How do we empower gifted women and men for leadership?

4. I gave thanks for the long history of WDC of listening to, calling forward and ordaining women for service in the mission of Jesus Christ. I was heartened to hear of the more than dozen pastoral couples who serve(d) in WDC — both spouses trained and ordained!

5. I was fed one evening by the Spanish-speaking Texas congregations with a delicious food buffet and warm hospitality. How many tortilla fillings could I taste? We stood in the parking lot of Iglesia Luz del Evangelio while children played, adults wandered into the lovely sanctuary, and conversation kept going and going and going. Regretfully, my broken toe meant I missed the piñata excitement!

6. I joined in a thanksgiving litany with my former co-minister, Marco Guete, during worship. How grateful I am that God gifted him and others to serve in the Mennonite church — and in WDC.

7. I was embraced by friends from my career as pastor which started 35 years ago in WDC. I was hugged and kissed by Hispanic church pastors who serve(d) congregations in Texas. Tears of joy and friendship anointed our history together.

8. I confessed the deep wrongs, hurts, oversights and mistakes that WDC has made in the past 125 years. Racism exists; sexism festers; classism abounds. We claim a peace tradition, but I know we miss the mark of shalom. That is why we need each other! That is why Jesus matters!

9. I was forced to see the Mennonite church beyond my own congregation. It’s important to attend regional, national and international events to be humbled by the multiplicity of faithfulness. Of course, these events cost monies. How can we be stewards of our resources yet get out of our “comfort zones?”

10. I recognized that I am now considered “an elder” of the church and WDC. I promise to stay invested, share my time, tell my faith story and continue to encourage the ministries sprouting up within our conference. Thank God that we are rooted and built up in Christ!

The Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA met Aug. 4-6, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. Dorothy Nickel Friesen is a retired pastor and conference minister. She lives in Newton, Kan., and is a member of Bethel College Mennonite Church.

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