This article was originally published by The Mennonite

An unconventional convention

From the editor

Mennonite Chuch USA’s Phoenix 2013 convention next summer will include an unconventional purpose: to educate participants about immigration issues on the ground, create public witness events in the city and then have those in Phoenix return home to replicate the experiences for those who missed the convention. This is a good plan.

Thomas Everett 2André Gingerich Stoner, one of the Executive Board staff members working on logistics, describes the activities:

“We are … exploring a wide range of witness opportunities, including a mobile choir and a large prayer walk past points of suffering and hope,” Stoner says. “In addition, we want to work with congregations and conferences to plan public witness and prayer vigils at detention centers … where there are larger concentrations of Mennonites in the weeks immediately after convention. Activities at Phoenix will help prepare for this witness back in our home communities.”

Arizona’s immigration laws gave leaders pause about even going to Phoenix. After the Executive Board reaffirmed the decision in early 2011, some people declared their intent to stay home to be in solidarity with those who might be profiled. So confronting the central issue, our nation’s troubling immigration system, makes sense as a focus for a convention in Phoenix.

Stoner and Iris de León-Hartshorn, director for transformative peacemaking, are clear what the focus is not.

“We are not going to Phoenix to try to ‘fix’ Arizona,” Stoner says. “Arizona can perhaps best be a case study for the assembled Mennonites to learn about what is happening not just there but all around the country in order to help equip us for witness and work in our own communities.”

The planners are clear that the intent is to learn from church and immigration groups and support their efforts. But those willing to participate in a public demonstration—called “public witness”—can do more than listen. The options include prayer vigils at detention centers and other buildings that symbolize immigration problems.

“We want to be a Christlike presence of care and compassion for those who are suffering from a broken immigration policy,” Stoner says, “of attentiveness to injustice and speaking truth, of respect for those with differing perspectives and building bridges.”

The first bridges planners may need to build could be in the delegate assembly. It is unlikely that the hundreds of delegates will all be of one mind when it comes to our country’s immigration system. Even more unlikely is agreement about the appropriateness of public demonstrations.

Planners seem to be anticipating those dynamics, however. They are asking conferences to cohost regional education events before the convention. De León-Hartshorn and Mennonite Central Committee staff lead those efforts.

The Mennonite has been asked to help lay the groundwork for such a focus. As a result, we are publishing in this issue a theme section describing the experiences of some immigrants in our churches and an analysis of U.S. immigration laws.

We encourage our readers to examine these articles carefully and then consider attending the 2013 convention in Phoenix. The more people who experience the event, the more people we will have in our pews to provide accurate and compassionate information about our country’s immigration problems.

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