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Why Did I Want to Go to Mennonite World Conference in Pennsylvania?

July 28, 2015


Why Did I Want to Go to Mennonite World Conference in Pennsylvania?

I went for my father.

My father, Vernon Miller, (mostly of Goshen, Indiana,) was a farmer most of his life who dropped out of school but caught a bigger version of the world through his service experience during World War II. As a conscientious objector, he served God and country in Civilian Public Service camps for four years where leaders, church historians and theologians gave him the “college” education he did not get otherwise, exposing him to Mennonite history and thought. He preached to us all of his life of what he learned—about Jesus as the way of peace and how we needed to love our fellow brothers and sisters all over the world no matter what color, creed or occupation. Dad invited into our home international visitors (with mother’s support, but she worried more about the extra work visitors entailed) whenever that opportunity presented itself: international students at Christmas, longer term exchange students, agricultural interns, singing nuns from Brazil, and more.

Thus it was that he and mom decided to sell a few hogs in order to go to Mennonite World Conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1967—and while planning to cross the pond decided “rather than turning around and just flying back home” they would visit some of the many people we had hosted in our home. They would take in the Holy Lands and continue on to India and the Far East. They “Mennonited their way,” staying on mission compounds with people they had long supported and prayed for through Mennonite Board of Missions, and saw first hand how food and material goods or animals sent through MCC, CROP/Church World Service, and Heifer projects were actually distributed.

They ate up World Conference and the rest of their around-the-world trip. I guess the seed for my own desire to someday go to a Mennonite World Conference was planted, which only happens every six years and rotates among five continents. I doubted a closer opportunity would ever come in my lifetime.

I went for my mother.

My mother still enjoys recalling the social and cultural surprises of their far flung journey. My mother and her first cousin, an avid singer and worship leader who also attended that World Conference, recalls now the “shock of seeing those cigarette-smoking Holland Mennonites” (the photo that rocked many a Mennonite’s world is still often shared today through social media.


Amsterdam 1967: Left, Fannie Peachey, Rosedale, Ohio, USA; (on right) non-Mennonite guest attending the conference and staying with a Mennonite couple in Amsterdam. Photographer: Tijn Olij-Spaan

In Amsterdam, Mom and Dad were hosted by a Dutch couple who ran a bakery. Yum, what smells and pastries they enjoyed, and they told us their stories of communication gaffes across languages, and how they craved plain old simple water but couldn’t get anything but seltzer in restaurants. And how they were surprised and a bit saddened to see that their hosts—and other local Dutch Mennonites—didn’t pay that much attention to the events at the conference, and did not have time to attend. While many many Pennsylvania Mennonites attended this conference, of course, there were many more who didn’t or couldn’t attend, nor maybe have much interest in attending. Indeed, if they had, there wouldn’t have been room for the thousands of guests from around the world. It’s the old story of when something is in your backyard or your own town, you seldom take time to visit what travelers go out of their way to see.


Four women from Zimbawbe, wearing the traditional “celebration dress” they wear for church baptisms and special days. MWC was indeed a celebration time. They gave their permission for this photo.

My mother loved and still loves to travel; she turns 91 this week and while going to something like a major meeting would have been over the top for her to tackle at this age, she was so excited that I planned to go, remembering how much Amsterdam 1967 meant to her and Dad.

I went for me.

Truth be told, my parents’ travel bug passed down to me and as a writer, I hunger after and feed on new experiences, sights, sounds, connections, conversations and inspiration. My dear husband gets this, and did not question or complain about me heading off on this adventure on our dime. Even though I work for a Mennonite organization, our budget there is stretched to the max and I did not have the opportunity to go there on a work assignment. But it was kind of nice to just go and not have duties at the convention like I have worked so many national church or regional conferences, or professional and trade association conventions.


So even though I could only go for one day, I tried to soak up all that I could. Sometime I’ll write more about what all these sewing machines were doing at a Mennonite convention;


what a guy wearing this hard hat was up to;


and what this unusually-equipped semi truck trailer was doing in the parking lot of the Pennsylvania Farm Show grounds and complex.


I was able to take in two fascinating workshops—one led by two German pastors—one Lutheran and one Mennonite talking about the Mennonite/Lutheran reconciliation of the last decade or so (and if you read my recent blog post here you’ll know why I wanted to go to that one). The other workshop was led by a woman from the Netherlands and I could imagine my parents’ Dutch hosts through her charm, trendy haircut and European style.

I went for future generations.

I was “trip morning excited” as I loaded my minivan at 5 a.m. for my short three hour drive up to Harrisburg. I took in the fresh summer air and thought of my parents in 1967 packing for their around the world trip of a lifetime, and how pinch-myself-is-this-real-thrilled they must have been. I also thought about how keyed up many of the visitors from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, India, Japan, Indonesia, France, England, Mexico, Paraguay and South Africa and many more countries must have been as they prepared to come to the U.S.—for some, surely also the trip of a lifetime. Travel and hosting others, when done with the right approach along with equal measures of care, compassion, and patience, is one way to reach across so many fences and walls that threaten to divide us as a world wide family.


College friend, Nancy Landis.

Oh and P.S., I too Mennonited-my-way staying overnight with a college friend. That was a treat and a good reminder to keep and nourish the friendship connections we have whether in our backyard, the next state, or another country. Thanks, Nancy!


One of many informal singing groups sharing music from their own culture.

Finally, I went for the music.

It was awesome and pretty close to my vision of heaven. Here’s one I got to enjoy.


Do you enjoy large church assemblies or gatherings, no matter what denomination? Mennonite World Conference calls their every-six-years gathering a “reunion.” What is your take on the purpose and meaning of such gatherings? Your thing or not? If you went, what did you enjoy most? What was hard?


For a playlist of 14 music videos from MWC, check here.


For more on Mennonites, go to the website I help curate:

  1. Thank you for finding the harmony in last week’s Mennonite World conference and bringing it to your readers. I felt as though I got a taste, especially through the music.

    Like mine, your family has a history of service and interest in other cultures. Happy birthday to your mother by the way.

    Two other thoughts: 1) I loved the photo of the very plain woman and the young girl smoking, a study in contrasts if there ever was one. 2) Nelson Kraybill the new MWC leader was a member of my former home church, Bossler Mennonite.

    I love gatherings where the group purpose is to glorify God through whatever means.

  2. Thanks for a great report with lots of historical context. I remember that iconic image very well. We are still living with the same themes. Off to the midwest! I’ll say hi to Indiana for you.

    • I was interested to find out that the young woman in that photo was not actually a Mennonite, but a visitor. Enjoy your travels, I hope to get out there in Oct. Seems you have a birthday coming up too (mother’s is July 30 so we’ve all been remembering how we were all out there last year at this time celebrating #90).

  3. Thank you for the little trip to heaven.

  4. Clair permalink

    Great article Melanie! As one who missed attending any of it, I was delighted to discover that one can watch and enjoy all the Assembly sessions, morning and evening, after the fact right here online!

    • Thanks, for sharing the link to all those sessions! Technology helps us bridge those tremendous miles between here and your current country!

  5. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler permalink

    Thank you for soaking it up and now for sharing it with us. I look forward to hearing more about those sewing machines….

  6. Wish that I had known you were there. Missed you at the MennoNerds meet-up! I enjoyed it immensely, but know that there were MennoNerds there I didn’t get to meet. – Sam

    • Yeah, I was sorry to miss the MennoNerd meet up; I got to meet some at EMU Pastor’s Week in January. Thanks for the shout out and stay tuned, I hope to share more here from my one day at MWC!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Why Are Mennonites So Well Known for Service? What I Saw at Mennonite World Conference | findingharmonyblog
  2. Getting Personal: Unexpected Gift of Mennonite World Conference 2015 | findingharmonyblog
  3. When my father threw away his cane | findingharmonyblog
  4. What Travel Does | findingharmonyblog

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