Groups help each other with convention expensesby Jessica Farmwald for Mennonite Church USA
Bake sales, silent auctions, car washes, rock-a-thons, the traveling yard flamingo—chances are that announcements for these fund-raisers are appearing in church bulletins across the country. It’s a convention year.
Elaina Widjaja and Eric Rasyidi, youth from Maranatha Christian Fellowship, Northridge, Calif., at Columbus 2009. Photo by Rebekka Stutzman.
As lighthearted as some of these moneymaking schemes may be, they help defray real costs. The average expense per youth to attend convention is $500—not including travel. For smaller congregations with sizable youth groups, fund-raising can be challenging, especially if the convention location isn’t within driving distance.
In the ramp-up to Columbus 2009, this was exactly the situation in which Los Angeles-area Maranatha Christian Fellowship—an 80-member congregation made up almost entirely of Indonesian immigrants—found itself. With a thriving youth group of more than 20 teens, the congregation was struggling to raise enough funds to subsidize the teens’ convention costs.
Maranatha’s youth pastor, Rebekka Stutzman, believed that Maranatha’s students would especially benefit from physically experiencing their place in the larger Mennonite church.
“As an Indonesian immigrant church—the second generation—they’re more and more looking for an identity and belonging,” she says. “Convention is a great opportunity for them to see, Hey, we’re a part of a bigger church than our local congregation, and even find connections with people across distance and ethnic lines.”
While attending a Youth Ministry Council meeting in Columbus, Ohio, Stutzman discussed her church’s financial situation with Rachel Swartzendruber Miller, director of convention planning for Mennonite Church USA. Meanwhile, Glen Guyton, who at the time was youth pastor for Calvary Community Church—a largely multicultural congregation of about 500 families in Hampton, Va.—was sitting on a slight surplus of fund-raising dollars. The match was made, and with help from Calvary and other contributors, including Pasadena (Calif.) Mennonite Church youth, Maranatha was able to send 12 students to Columbus 2009.
“It’s wonderful to watch these partnerships happen,” says Swartzendruber Miller, who took three calls last year from churches looking to sponsor other congregations. “For the giving church, it’s great to see what fund-raising can do and how we are called to share what we have, but also the receiving congregation knows they are a valued part of Mennonite Church USA and that we as a church want them to be a part of the gathering at convention.”
The teens from Calvary and Maranatha met each other at one of the worship sessions at Columbus. Janseen Howell, current high school program director for Calvary, says: “The Maranatha students were so grateful and excited to be there. It really put into perspective what we often take for granted because we’ve been able to attend so many conventions.”
Both Howell and Stutzman say the value of sending students to convention is clear. And engaging in partnerships like Calvary’s and Maranatha’s is a way to make the experience of convention—what it really means to belong to and participate in the larger Mennonite church—even more special. At Columbus 2009, Elaina Widjaja, a Maranatha student, was inspired by a quilting demonstration to take up knitting, a skill she’s put to use making more than 200 scarves to donate to mission agencies. Calvary’s youth group won the first-ever step-show contest. Teens from each group learned about Mennonite higher education.
“It is an opportunity to build relationships and bridges at the same time,” says Stutzman. And the relationship-building doesn’t end with convention; people from Maranatha and Calvary have since exchanged letters, and Guyton spoke at a youth event at Maranatha in October 2010. His 13-year-old daughter, Andrea Guyton, came with him and learned to play Dutch Blitz from Maranatha teens she now hopes to see at Pittsburgh 2011.
“I really like the chance to see people you maybe haven’t seen in a while or since the last convention. It’s like a big family reunion,” says Andrea Guyton. “I think everyone should get a chance to experience convention.”
Pittsburgh 2011, the Mennonite Church USA biennial convention, will be held July 4-9 in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh.
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