Let me start with a disclaimer, no I’m not in San Jose at the convention, and yes I would love to be there. I was in Charlotte for a couple days a few years ago and I attended the Nashville convention but I’m no expert on the whole convention model. I think that it is a good and healthy thing for the church to gather in a large body to discuss important issues, worship, and fellowship together. I think these things should all continue to happen at Mennonite conventions (or assemblies, is that the more correct term?). However, I have two main concerns with the current convention model. One, is it really necessary to spend thousands of dollars on renting out convention centers in large cities (where there usually aren’t that many Mennonites) and then having all the participants stay in hotels. Now this could be a question simply of numbers, are there just not large enough buildings to host joint worships of thousands (other than in large cities)? However, would it be totally unthinkable to have a Mennonite convention in an area with significant Mennonite infrastructure? Maybe Goshen, Harrisonburg, Lancaster… Being from Goshen, I’m most familiar with that area and although I can’t think of a great space for a worship of 4 to 5 thousand (approximately?) there would be plenty of spaces for meetings and a couple spaces for close to 1,000 participants. Not only could we use facilities for much cheaper (free?) but there would be many churches in the area. Maybe one youth group could be hosted by a local youth group, or there could be some kind of host family system, creating increased community and saving money at the same time. Even if it wasn’t feasible to have a convention in Goshen or Harrisonburg then why not have conventions closer to the home of the majority of Mennonites, maybe Chicago, or Pittsburgh. According to Mpress, the San Jose convention news service here are the five states with the largest number of adult participants. (http://www.sanjose2007.org/mpress/tuesday/numbers.html)
1) Pennsylvania – 431 (ex. $300 plane ticket, which would be a really good deal = $129,300 on airfare just from PA)- this could feed 215 African families of 5 for a year (http://mcc.org/givingprojects/food_for_today.html)
2) Indiana – 323
3) Kansas – 185
4) Ohio – 160
5) Virginia – 137
Now, I doubt very many of these people drove out to California (maybe the Kansans) but it doesn’t take long to figure out they’re spending a lot of money on airfare that could be saved if conventions were closer to central Mennonite areas. With that said, I understand that the idea is to support Mennonites in all areas of the country. This is important, but wouldn’t it make more sense for the churches in the midwest or east to set aside some money to help the churches from the west coast or far south to fly to convention sites than to have all the Mennonites from other places fly out to the west coast? In summary, I would love to see a convention planned creatively in a densely Mennonite area, if not in a Mennonite-college town, then a city close by. This would enable the hosting area churches to be more involved in the hosting and maybe even some of the food preparation. Furthermore, it would be great to use some of the beautiful buildings and spaces that Mennonite churches and institutions already own. It just doesn’t seem like good stewardship to spend all of that money on airfare, hotels, and convention center food.
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