Parting Reflections on Pittsburgh 2011
Liz Core, a reporter for mPress, interviewed conventiongoers on Friday and returned with these snapshots.
Rosemarie Matsuda, of Pittsburgh, has lived through two house fires, a world war and “an entire city burning down in front of me.” Growing up in a city outside of Berlin during World War II, Matsuda’s German Lutheran family owned a bake shop. In war-torn Germany, Matsuda always had a heart for the poor. “My father used to come and ask where all the bread went,” she said. “I would see the people with their food coupons and me, with my full stomach, would give away the bread to them.” After moving to the United States as a college student, Matsuda attempted to realize her dream to become a social worker with the church. The church that she was a member of at the time, however, did not welcome her because she was married to a man of Japanese descent; so she found refuge at the local integrated Mennonite church. “I was delighted to find the Mennonites,” she said. Since joining the church in the late 1950s, Matsuda, who is 86, has attended every convention since. This year, she has found that the amount of attention given to welcoming all races and ethnicities in the church “delightful.”
Elizabeth Tomayo, Norristown, Pa., is a leader for a Spanish youth worship group at convention this year. Throughout the week she realized that the place she found the most enjoyment was at the youth worship sessions. “You can feel the peace and love being shared with each other,” she said. “It is so encouraging to see so many youth; the abundance of youth is awesome.” In addition to leading her own worship group with singing and musical organization, she also finds time to encourage the youth in their gifts because, she said, “It encourages me to see their joy, their expressions and their smiles.” Tomayo and her husband, who is a delegate and pastor at her home church in Norristown, had originally intended to leave the convention early. But after experiencing the events of the week, “We had to extend our time here. We may have one plan, but God has another.”
Kelsey Donnovan and Anna Kennell, both from Illinois, did not know each other before attending Pittsburgh convention. Yet, they have found that of all the activities, seminars and events they have attended throughout the week, the experience that bonded them as friends was the walk from their hotel to the convention center. “A place is only as good as the people you’re with,” said Donnovan. As Kennell nodded in agreement, she added that “the walks from the hotel to the convention center were when we got to know each other.” Kennell, who came here with her brother and sister, was nervous about making friends before the convention. “But now,” she said, “it’s good.”
Bill Swartzendruber of Middlebury, Ind., came to convention to catch up with old friends whom he has known through the church over the years. Most inspiring to him was Shane Hipps’ discussion about the needlessness of disputes within the church. Referencing Romans 15, he said, “Let’s focus on who we are as followers of Christ. If there’s something you disagree with your brother about, don’t mess with it!” As an active member of his church’s transition team (meant to help others in the church “realize what God is doing and what they can do to be a part of it”), Swartzendruber plans on taking the lessons he learned at convention back to his home congregation.
Autumn Wiese traveled with her youth group from her home congregation of Prairie Street Mennonite in Elkhart, Ind., to take part in convention this year. Wiese was dressed from head to toe in pink with the addition of a bright pink scarf around her arm in support of Pink Menno. She admits that prior to the Pittsburgh convention, “I had been afraid to upset the still waters. I didn’t even want to buy a Pink Menno T-shirt,” she said. Yet after attending a session led by Dale Schrag entitled “Open palms or closed fists,” she realized that she did not have to deny the ideas of others in order to affirm her own. “When you have a conviction, open up to the fact that you might be wrong,” she said. Realizing that both sides of an argument (including her own) may be wrong, she has allowed herself to follow her beliefs with open palms. “After the session I went out and bought a Pink Menno bandana and I’ve been wearing it ever since,” she said. Even after being approached by someone who disagreed with her apparent support, Wiese opened her palms and welcomed the criticism. “It was hard,” she said, “but I tried to see his point of view. I think I’ll take that with me the most.”
A distinctive Canadian flag held by Cale Burkhart make a group of young men from Floradale Mennonite Church stand out in the crowd. When asked what their most influential moment at convention was, the boys began mentioning events such as the Pirates game they attended and the restaurants with great food. Yet as the conversation progressed, the group began discussing that day’s speaker at morning worship, Jeniffer Dake. “She was energetic” said Tyler Martin. “Yeah, like she really believed what she was saying,” added Nick Bauman. “And she was easy to follow,” said another. What most affected Tim Greenwood, another member of the group, was the need to keep pursuing God when coming down from what he called “a spiritual high.” “When you leave worship, don’t let it drop,” he said. “It’s different to leave a place like this [convention]. You can say it’s easy, but it’s not. Compared to this, things just don’t measure up.”