Mennonite Church USA convention draws many to Orlando

Professor Melody Pannell is featured on the cover of the Mennonite Church USA Annual Convention's daily bulletin. The convention is July 4-8 in Orlando, Florida, with many people connected to Eastern Mennonite University and Eastern Mennonite Seminary in attendance.

With love in action as the guiding theme of the 2017 Mennonite Church USA annual convention, several Eastern Mennonite University and Eastern Mennonite Seminary faculty and staff are sharing their research and wisdom at the Orlando, Florida, event.

Among the featured speakers to address youth is Assistant Professor of Social Work Melody Pannell, who wrote in a pre-conference blog, “I sense a strong call for the church to continue shifting our response to injustice.”

She continues: Instead of showing love with just our words, we must begin speaking truth to power and taking deliberate and sustainable action in love. “Love is a Verb” is more than just a “theme.” This is a call to a higher level of discipleship and a deeper willingness to sacrifice ourselves and embody the love of Jesus Christ. It is a call to “lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” in a way that utilizes our collective and individual power, influence and resources to dismantle gender discrimination, address historical harms and resist structural racism.

Pannell, who was born and raised in Harlem, New York City, grew up attending Seventh Avenue Mennonite Church in Harlem and attended Eastern Mennonite University. After graduating in 1997, she worked and earned both a Masters in Social Work and a Master of Divinity degree.

At the conference, Pannell shares her personal story and the challenges of finding and living in her own “fidelity of place” in a presentation for youth, as well as three other presentations on sexualization and healthy sexuality, a restorative approach to broken boundaries in congregational life, and her work as founder of Destiny’s Daughters Empowerment Ministry.

Other presenters include:

  • David King, director of athletics and author of “Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in a Youth Sports Culture,” speaking to both adults and youth about living and playing with a healthy balance;
  • Lonnie Yoder, professor at EMS, speaking to youth about decision-making for the future and the relationship of sports and faith;
  • Nancy Heisey, associate dean at EMS and professor of Bible and religion at EMU, on “Mine, Ours, and Yours: Taking Care of Stuff”;
  • Kathy Evans, professor of education, pairing with Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, restorative justice coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee, to host two sessions for youth on restorative justice for difficult conversations and the basics of circle processes.

Among the featured speakers were alumni Lisa Cameron ’99, director of empowerment services at the YWCA Lancaster, and Phil Kniss ’82, MDiv ’95, pastor at Park View Mennonite Church, as well as two authors who have spoken at EMU, Rachel Held Evans and Drew G.I. Hart.

Other faculty, staff and student involvement

Numerous EMU faculty, staff and students are at the convention as delegates for church-wide business sessions representing their home congregations, or as youth group sponsors from their home congregations. These include Deirdre Smeltzer, undergraduate academic dean, representing Park View Mennonite Church; Ronda Rittenhouse, assistant to the undergraduate dean and youth sponsor for Lindale Mennonite Church, and others.

President Susan Schultz Huxman is taking part in activities and will bring greetings to an alumni gathering hosted by Jeff Shank, director of alumni and parent engagement. More than 175 EMU and Eastern Mennonite Seminary graduates have registered for the reunion.

Leah Wenger, a sophomore, played a key role in planning this year’s new Step Up program for youth. The goal of “Step Up” is to prepare and launch young people into future involvement as denominational delegates and church leaders who are involved with the broader church. Read more here.

Shana Peachy Boshart ’86 led the planning for the Step Up program; she is an EMU board of trustee member  and Conference Minister for Christian Formation and Youth Ministry for the denomination’s Central Plains Mennonite Conference.

Senior Nicole Litwiller is representing EMU at the Future Summit, a “gathering to imagine an Anabaptist future for Mennonite Church USA.” Catherine Barnes, affiliate associate professor at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, is facilitating the summit.

Collaborative Mennonite higher ed branding

Also at the convention, the five Mennonite colleges and universities launched a new collaborative branding effort to highlight the ways in which strong academics and affordability prepare their graduates for successful outcomes. The colleges and universities — EMU, Bethel College (Newton, Kansas), Bluffton (Ohio) University, Goshen (Indiana) College and Hesston (Kansas) College — were known to compete for students in the past, but decided to pool resources and promote joint messaging.

Instead of competing exhibits from each college, the Mennonite Colleges and Universities (MCU) exhibit highlights alumni from all the institutions, a wall of facts and digital surveys, and a matching game that exposes prospective students to different academic areas. Youth can enjoy coffee while playing the game, which earns them a t-shirt and opportunities to win scholarship money, college swag bags, a college-bound pack (including a laptop), and VIP visits.