KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The executive director sang a ’90s grunge rock song.
A Bible study on Ephesians packed enough input for a month of Sundays.
Teenagers and adults worshiped together with traditional hymns and contemporary songs as beach balls bounced overhead.
Delegates altered the assembly agenda, writing and approving a resolution on abuse of child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Speakers described hopeful visions of God breathing the wind of life into dry bones — perhaps suddenly, probably disruptively — because that is how the Holy Spirit animates God’s people.
The biennial convention of Mennonite Church USA July 2-6 may not have had a formal theme — MennoCon19 was the official title — but the pervading message was one of revival.
“Church, it is time for us to start breathing again,” said Meghan Good, teaching pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz., in her July 5 sermon. “And the good news of the gospel is that any day can be resurrection day.”
As convention attendance continued a trend of decline — falling to 2,839, the lowest in MC USA’s 18-year history — leaders and participants sought to renew a denominational identity of peacemaking and inclusion in spite of membership losses.
Many who gathered in the Kansas City Convention Center welcomed the calls for revival, unity and Spirit-filled transformation.
“I came to this convention with a lot of trepidation,” said Scott Peterson of Glendale, Ariz., during the final delegate session. “I did not see a way forward for Mennonite Church USA. I saw fear and mistrust.”
The convention left him amazed and impressed.
“It seems God’s Spirit is moving us through the weeds and showing us that there is rest and reconciliation available,” he said.
Some attributed the spirit of revival to worshiping with the youth. For the first time, all worship services were for all ages.
Lois Kauffman of Harrisonburg, Va., said she had “joined the madness” at the front of the worship hall where the youth gathered, even though some teenagers “looked at me like I was a crazy woman.”
“God led me here for transformation of my heart,” she said. “I have renewed faith in our church.”
Hardaye Ramjit of Cleveland said: “When the youth were up there praising God, it was like the Holy Spirit came to me and said, ‘That’s the future.’ I’m going to leave with more passion to do God’s work.”
Affirming the interaction of youth with older generations, delegates approved a bylaw change allowing additional delegates between the ages of 16 and 21 and making them full voting members of the assembly.
Delegates spent several hours in a study of Ephesians led by Canadian Bible professor Tom Yoder Neufeld.
He spoke of making “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). He offered advice for navigating the mixture of joy and pain that comes from walking together as a diverse body of Christ.
Acknowledging the bonds that have broken as congregations and conferences have left MC USA, Yoder Neufeld said believers on any side of a schism should “never stop checking the horizon,” like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.
“You have experienced serious rifts,” he said. “. . . But never forget that the unity of the Spirit is not the same as the unity of the denomination. It goes much deeper and has a much longer memory.”
From the Bible study, a phrase emerged that worshipers repeated — at the prompting of executive director Glen Guyton — during the closing service: “The church is a mess. Thanks be to God.”