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Photo: Members of the youth worship team during July 4 worship. From l to r: Hilary Harder, Seth Crissman, Valerie Bess and Greg Yoder. Photo by Vada Snider.
The lights dimmed as the last few youth groups trickled into their seats. Applause started slowly, with a single solid clap that grew to a roar. The applause faded as a bass drum beat to the rhythm of a heartbeat. It was 7:35 p.m., and the 2017 Mennonite Church USA Convention had begun.
The opening youth worship at MC USA Convention in Orlando, Florida, focused on the theme “Love is a Noun.” Music and reflections from denominational staff set the tone for the convention theme “Love is a Verb.” Worship the rest of the week will grow to include “God’s love for you, God’s love for the person next to you, God’s love for your entire neighborhood,” and eventually God’s love for the entire world.
After an opening song, worship leader Jon Heinly of New Haven, Connecticut, welcomed the youth and sponsors and offered a prayer of thanks and blessing for the week to come. He also introduced Seth Crissman, Harrisonburg, Virginia, who will lead the youth worship team.
During a set of five songs, Crissman asked the youth turn to each other and repeat the words, “I will sing your songs with you. Will you sing my songs with me?” The worship team then played quietly as they repeated the chorus of “Great Are You Lord.”
Heinly then introduced Rachel Springer Gerber, denominational minister for youth and
young adults, and Glen Guyton, chief operating officer and director of Convention Planning. Heinly asked each of them to share about what they looked forward to in the coming week.
Guyton explained that when they were looking for a theme for convention, he thought of verbs, and how they are action, and excitement. He said he couldn’t think of a better way to get people excited for the week.
Gerber said she has attended every convention since she was in the eighth grade, when she attended the 1993 convention in Philadelphia. She loved making and renewing connections and the being reminded of her place in the larger Mennonite community and the body of Christ.
Heinly said he was looking forward to worship and the worship speakers and was excited for the week’s theme “Love is a Verb.”
Heinly explained that each night the youth worship would include the sound of a bass drum, played by Onan Alvarez of Houston, beating to the rhythm of a heartbeat. Heinly explained this was God’s heartbeat and it was to remind them to consider the question, “What does it mean to get in tune with the heartbeat of God’s love?”
The worship service included a time for youth to turn to someone they did not know and share what they were most excited for in the coming week. Heinly encouraged them to also share their thoughts on Twitter using #MennoCon17Youth.
Tweets included excitement for activities and fellowshipping, such as “FREE TSHIRTS (and meeting new people is cool too)” (@Kewpie_11) and “Remaining Dutch Blitz Champions!!!” (@alexpshort), but also included responses like “Transformative Love” (@GlenGuyton).
After several more songs and video announcements by Andrea Guyton, who works with the convention’s social media, Heinly asked the youth to consider, “What one thing will you do to participate in God’s love for this world?”
The service ended with a song written specifically for this year’s theme.
The youth were asked to hold their hands palm up in front of them, imagining they were a garden as they sang, “These seeds you have sown in our hearts and in our bones, cover them with your love. Use our hands, use our feet to show your love and your peace. Cover us with love.”
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