I knew everything would be okay as soon as the singing started. As I sat at a table positioned behind a small tower of crates half covered in cloth—a makeshift platform for the room’s main projector—I looked up from my detailed program schedule and smiled. Right, this is why we’re here.
“Gathering 2019: Igniting the imagination of the church,” held from June 28 to July 1, was our inaugural nationwide event under our new expression of Mennonite Church Canada. More than 300 people registered, and each day between 200 and 250 people attended the main sessions. We gathered in a hotel ballroom, seated around tables and facing a small stage, where the worship team led us through the weekend, and where guest speaker Elaine Heath spoke to us about building missional communities and the future of the church.
Over the three-and-a-half days we were together, I quietly watched our nationwide family gather. Several things were clear. We care deeply about each other. We listen to one another and are inspired by one another’s stories. We are a body of many parts, each of us willing and ready to help when called upon.
I witnessed many people willing to help at Gathering 2019. With no official photographer for the event, one of our creative worship leaders took photos throughout the weekend. Members of the Gathering 2019 planning committee led the crokinole tournament and the outdoor worship time, and rounded up folks for excursions when the buses came early. Volunteers spent time with children, registered people and answered questions. I was struck by how not only the organizers offered themselves, but so did the participants.
A moment I found particularly meaningful happened during communion in our last worship service together on Canada Day. Those offering the bread and cup went to the people seated at the tables. As music played, everyone stood and passed the bread and cup around the table. Because I was in charge of the PowerPoint for the worship songs, I couldn’t get up to join the circle of people at the table beside me. It only took a second for the person with the bread and cup to motion to people to stand around me, so I could partake and keep my eye on the next slide.
The purpose of Gathering 2019 was to ask ourselves how we feel the Spirit moving in our midst, among our congregations, our regional churches and as MC Canada. This moment of communion around my little table was an example to me of how the Spirit moves in us, urging us to move in ways that are new, unexpected, and perhaps even uncomfortable.
In the moment, I didn’t think it was important that I partake because I was busy making sure everything was running smoothly. I had a job to do. But what was most important for me to do was to break bread with Christ’s body and be reminded of our true purpose.
Over the weekend, we heard from seven people who shared stories of how the Spirit is moving in their congregations. Lyne Renaud of Quebec, Sandy Plett and Don Rempel Boschman of Manitoba, Terri Lynn (Paulson) Friesen of Saskatchewan, Christina and Darnell Barkman of B.C., Colin McCartney of Ontario, and Donna Entz of Alberta have all been challenged to imagine church differently and to follow the Spirit’s leading.
At our delegate session and annual general meeting, people were asked to discuss how they imagine engaging in missional work locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and write their responses on paper.
From my perspective near the back of the room, there was much conversation and sharing of experiences and listening as well. I look forward to going over those responses and being witness to the vision of the people of Christ’s body.
I’ll take the remaining space I have left here to offer a final word of thanks for the planners, organizers and participants, who all offered themselves to make Gathering 2019 possible and inspiring. We are many parts of one body. Let’s keep talking. And singing.
Katie Doke Sawatzky is MC Canada’s communications officer. She works from Regina and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our next issue—dated Aug. 5 (posted July 31)—will be digital. To learn how you can receive this digital issue, visit canadianmennonite.org/subscribe/digital.
Further reading about Gathering 2019:
—Updated July 24, 2019