It all begins so much sooner than a Friday morning. The design of each annual Convention truly begins with an email, a dream, a cascade of thoughts – how can we gather? What is of value? What stories need sharing? Well before anyone clicks “attend” or shares the link or invites a friend, the process is well underway.
So many little moments – planning meetings, prayers over each name tag, emails sent, food and transportation arranged – all lead up to the many and diverse members of the Ontario MB Conference gathering together, as we did this year on a surprisingly sunny Friday in February, in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake.
This year, Pastors’ and Leaders’ Day, the Friday before the Saturday as it were, featured the teaching of Danielle Strickland, a globally known and incredibly captivating speaker. After powerful worship that helped us fix our eyes on who Jesus is, Danielle guided the group of 100 Ontario pastors and leaders through a series of reflections on bringing a holistic gospel presence – in our leadership, in our relationships and in our lives. The afternoon brought a panel of Christie Worden, Derek Parenteau, Philp Serez and Jeff Lockyer sharing on the practices they use to navigate unsettling change in their differing ministries. The day finished with Strickland’s reflections on John 9 – challenging us to reflect on our understanding of power.
The evening session brought in a larger, excited group of 167 delegates and guests to engage in more worship and teaching from Strickland. Participants described the warm atmosphere and welcoming presence, naming the spiritual and physical food that fed the whole room. Danielle walked through John 12 and spoke on the theme of Our Lives in Love. She reflected on how pain and love are used very closely in scripture and prayed that we would wake up in time to be part of the greatest exodus – the greatest movement toward freedom – of all time. She ended the evening leading us through a Posture Prayer of Surrender, preparing us to share the elements of communion together.
Saturday began another day. Many enjoyed fresh baked goods prepared in advance by the hospitality team at Cornerstone Community Church as worship filled the auditorium with words and melodies of Amazing Grace. Ed Willms, ONMB’s Executive Director, opened the day’s events with reflections on our many differences, and the challenges that diversity brings. We gather as an extended family which has taken shape under a mixture of different circumstances, and Willms referred to the illustration of a mobile. As one piece moves, all the other pieces are affected. Ed read through many scripture verses where Jesus encourages us to be devoted to one another in love. We were invited to lean into a posture of Humility, as we listen to and learn from each other. A posture of Hospitality, as we engage in life together. A posture of Acceptance, as we serve one another, just as Jesus has served us.
Breakout sessions were all highlights of the afternoon – from Christie Worden’s session on Building the Church of 2050 to Elton DaSilva’s insights on living into the Collaborative Model, Matt Unruh’s guidance in the Faith & Life Team session, to Philip Serez providing a forward-thinking update from Multiply. Derek Parenteau walked through a process of understanding, repentance, and intercessory prayer – those who went experienced information, inspiration and celebration.
Perhaps the truest celebration was the welcome of two new churches into our ONMB Family – Zurich Kingsfield Mennonite Church and Maple View Mennonite Church. Walking with these two communities has been a significant journey over the past year and it was a delight to celebrate their official welcome.
Another annual gathering is done, but now the little moments begin again – dreams, thoughts, ideas and invites. What joy to dream together for this family as we anticipate the celebration of our 90th Annual Convention in 2021.