This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Watson: Chance to look ahead

Glancing at my calendar, I realize it’s already been almost a year since the Mennonite Church USA convention and barely more than a year until the next one.

Hillary Watson

Recently the team planning the 2019 convention in Kansas City, Mo., met for the first time. In the MC USA article introducing the Worship Planning Committee, one word stands out: Forward. The focus is on the Journey Forward and moving forward. After some painful years and the loss of many congregations, the planning team’s vision is how to move forward.

What does “forward” look like? Is MC USA really ready to move forward?

I believe that, ready or not, the church must move forward. The church must transition from regretting a future that is not possible to embracing a future that can be.

The theme the planning team chooses will be critical to that forward motion. Kansas City 2019 calls for a theme that is broad, upbeat, honest and can frame a range of difficult conversations the church continues to debate, from how to respond to the Israel-Palestine conflict to what it means to be a faithful church under the Trump presidency to acknowledging mistakes of the past. Here are a few ideas:

In Your Power. In 2016, the denomination’s Women in Leadership Project held “I’ve Got the Power,” a conference for women doing theology. It was a probing and affirming theme that allowed participants to claim power as women and name power dynamics that Mennonites, as a lay-led church, are often afraid to acknowledge. The phrase “in your power,” leaves space to explore youth empowerment, undoing racism and patriarchy, and God’s ultimate power. It allows participants to both claim and yield power.

Join the Song. The new hymnal will be finalized in mid-2019. What better way to affirm unity than devoting the week to shared songs? We can introduce new songs — and variations on familiar ones. Youth can be empowered by drafting Mennonite high school choirs to sing in adult or youth worship. Worship diversity can be explored by inviting three or four song teams to lead worship, relying on a core of common songs led in different ways, and including new ones that represent unique traditions.

For the Healing of the Earth. Mennonites have a strong land ethic. Why not devote a whole convention to connecting with the land? Let climate change be the lens through which we approach economic injustice, environmental racism, the relevance of church today and youth spiritual growth. This theme can be a lens to examine how organizations from Christian Peacemaker Teams to Camp Deerpark in New York to the service agency DOOR are following the call to be stewards of God’s Creation.

The Plans I Have for You. In times of stress we return to Scripture to comfort and guide us. A biblical and future-focused theme like this one from Jer. 29:11 could present a compelling vision. Flesh it out with booths and speakers from church plants like Roots Fellowship in North Carolina, the Amor Viviente network of churches and new ministries like Casa de Paz immigration detention ministries, Peacebuilders Camp for teens in Georgia and God’s Little Acre homeless ministry in Seattle.

These are just a few ideas to shape convention. Readers can share ideas by writing to MWR or posting in the comments section of this article.

See you in Kansas City!

Hillary Watson pastors at Lombard Mennonite Church in suburban Chicago. She blogs at

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