MVS units enjoy camaraderie, cable cars

Mennonite Voluntary Service participants Erin McWilliams, Anna Lubbers, Eden George, Polly Carlson, Claire Waidelich, Pamela Ortiz, Ashley Neufeld, Jillian Neufeldt and Elizabeth Breckbill in San Francisco. — Erin McWilliams/MMN Mennonite Voluntary Service participants Erin McWilliams, Anna Lubbers, Eden George, Polly Carlson, Claire Waidelich, Pamela Ortiz, Ashley Neufeld, Jillian Neufeldt and Elizabeth Breckbill in San Francisco. — Erin McWilliams/MMN

Most of the Mennonite Voluntary Service unit houses were quiet March 3-6, with locked doors and darkened windows. The San Francisco unit apartment, however, was fuller, louder and livelier than the pandemic had enabled it to be in years.

MVSers from across the country gathered in San Francisco to learn, share and worship together. The San Francisco unit introduced two other units — from Alamosa, Colo., and Chicago — to their church, community and culture.

Three other units — Washington, D.C., Tucson, Ariz., and Puerto Rico — are on sabbatical.

While the group was able to enjoy some quintessential San Francisco experiences — including a day trip to Chinatown, a seafood lunch at Pier 39 and a cable car ride — the trip also was an opportunity to support one another.

Participants were able to share joys, commiserate in struggles and swap stories with some of the only other people with an immediate understanding of MVS’s unique fusion of service and communal living.

“No one truly understands the MVS experience unless you live it,” said Polly Carlson, an MVSer with the San Francisco unit.

Naomi Leary, administrator for MVS and Service Adventure, described the MVS units as a close-knit community, bound together by their shared commitment to a year or two of service.

“Especially in a season [of the pandemic] when community and relationships can be so challenging to navigate safely, it felt valuable for the units to find ways to connect,” she said.

The gathering was made possible, in part, through a grant from the Fidelia E. Plett Foundation, based in Inman, Kan. Dave Balzer, one of the foundation’s board members, said the foundation works to support programs and organizations with ties to the former General Conference Mennonite Church, as well as those that promote service and support mental health, all things that Plett was passionate about.

On the last day of the gathering, the MVS group attended worship at First Mennonite Church of San Francisco. The congregation has been central in supporting the MVS unit since its creation almost four decades ago.

“It was wonderful to meet some of the members of [the San Francisco unit’s] supporting congregation,” said Erin McWilliams, a member of the Alamosa, Colo., unit. “It was beautiful to see the support and love that the people of the congregation have for each other.”

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