Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference met June 21 and 22 in Portland. Our conference is made up of 35 congregation in five states; Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. We meet annually to discuss the business of the conference as well as to hear how God is at work in other congregations. This year we had two new delegates, Tim Gannett and Rachel Joy, who share their experiences below. Other delegates were; Charlene Epp, Marty Lowen, Harold and Gloria Nussbaum, Rachel Ringenberg Miller, Lin Rush and Curt Weaver.
As someone still very new to the Mennonite Church, going to the conference was completely a learning experience. I got a better understanding of how the church is structured in general, but it raised a lot of questions about how the different congregations within the conference are connected to each other. I think the most I got out of being a delegate was simply the chance to meet delegates from other congregations and hear what is going on in other congregations around the conference, what their concerns are, what issues they're dealing with, and so on. It really drove home the diversity of congregations, and their diverse needs and resources. It was a valuable experience for stepping back a little bit and looking at the church in a broader, regional context, challenging me to try to think through how each different congregation can support others and build stronger connections--one thing brought up was (if I remember correctly; it may have just been discussed at our table) that the regional conference might be able to facilitate support for various projects by sharing information about needs with individual congregations and allowing them to take offerings for specific purposes, or to go specifically to the region for such purposes. Again, simply discussing some of these ideas with delegates from very different places and congregations was incredibly valuable.
I went to PNMC curious about what Mennonites are like beyond my home congregation, since PMC has been my main exposure to this denomination in the 9 years since I made my baptismal commitment within this generous group of people. I expected that I would be confirmed as an outsider. To go as a representative of PMC, to be told to show up at the table and be myself, was my first clue that the love of God is greater than our differences.
At the first business meeting, I learned that we are a region including churches of many sizes, speaking multiple languages, of varied ages and many different leadership and mission styles. Some said they addressed challenges with fasting and prayer, others with potlucks and social retreats. I spoke with people from Boise and Seattle, who shared urban concerns about how to organize and worship. The re-organization process that Seattle Mennonite has recently been through shone through as vitality in the faces of the representatives I met from Seattle, and reminded me that as we talk about our future at PMC, other congregations have been through change and offer resources and encouragement.
I expected business to be a lot of discussion about things I might not know much about, but as we talked about the role of delegates, about how PNMC can help congregations better, and about conference finances, things about which I had almost no prior experience, I learned that the people around my table, and at the tables around the room, were concerned about preserving the movement of Spirit in our dialogue. Questions were as welcome as opinion. That attitude of openness finally convinced me that perhaps, after all, I do really and truly belong in this group. As Katherine Jameson Pitts said at the beginning of one business session, the ear can't say it's not part of the body because it's not a toe. I finally, amid the many voices and ears and hands and feet at PNMC, believed it, and accepted myself as a member of this body.
At the seminars I attended, following my personal interests about global issues, poverty, and interculturalism, I was happy to find that others share my concerns. We are nowhere near perfect in our diversity, but we are working together to find a way to speak God's love in ourselves, with each other, and throughout the world.