Mennonite Church USA’s first hybrid convention — and also its smallest — opened July 6 in Cincinnati with calls to bring peace to a world stressed by conflict and loss.
MennoCon21 is expected to draw about 590 people to Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, with an additional 454 registered to watch online.
Attendance at previous conventions, which are held every two years, ranged from 2,800 in 2019 to 8,600 in 2005.
Saying “this is the smallest convention you will ever go to,” Glen Guyton, the denomination’s executive director, invited the crowd to have fun and make some noise.
“You don’t have to be peaceful as far as quiet,” he said.
The theme for the July 6-10 event is “Bring the Peace!”
Offering words of welcome, Brian Moll, pastor of Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship, said the charge to bring peace “feels very appropriate in a world filled with tension.” He cited “science being politicized and weaponized” during the pandemic, the gaining of “some measure of justice” after the police killing of George Floyd, and the need to acknowledge that “we are standing on land stolen from our Indigenous neighbors.”
“We are on a journey of reconciliation, and each of us has a role to play to bring the peace,” Moll said.
Keynote speakers Lesley Francisco McClendon and Caleb McClendon — a married couple who are pastors at Calvary Community Church, a Mennonite congregation in Hampton, Va. — told a story of personal loss to illustrate their call to peace.
In 2017, their doctor informed them that their unborn child, at 11 weeks, had no heartbeat.
Caleb McClendon said the devastating experience of miscarriage taught him it is possible to “be asleep in the boat in the middle of a storm because I have trust that God will take care of things.”
He said the fruit of peace is trust — “when everything around you is going wrong and you still feel calm.”
“Peace is just a thought away,” he said, citing Isaiah 26:3 — “you will keep in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you.”
The McClendons, who have been married for six years, now have a son, Jackson.
Speaking in dialogue with Caleb, Lesley Francisco McClendon urged the crowd to “live a life of peace from root to fruit.” She said God’s peace is rooted in Genesis 1, when God created the world not through violence or coercion but by making order out of chaos.
Jesus Christ not only sets the example of a life of peace that bears fruit but also restores us to a peaceful relationship with God through his sacrificial death.
“The Genesis story is foundational, but what Jesus does is formational,” she said.
She described herself as “an Anabapticostal — a peace-loving girl who is filled with the Holy Spirit.”
“If you are going to truly bring the peace, it is not enough to be born into a peaceful environment, or grow up in a community of peace, if your life no longer serves as a witness of peace,” she said. “May our roots be so deep that our fruit has no choice but to speak. Let the peace of Christ live in and through you.”
The convention continues through Saturday. With lower attendance due to the pandemic, planners have scaled back some of the usual activities. Delegate business sessions, which normally would happen throughout the week, will be condensed into a two-and-a-half-hour online meeting on Saturday afternoon, after the final worship service.
Other activities include five worship services; three Bible study sessions on “Shalom Justice Amidst Pandemic and Racism” with Safwat Marzouk, a professor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary; and seminars for youth and adults.