Watch parties bring Assembly home
“I think this type of ‘hybrid’ connectedness has great potential for strengthening the communion of Mennonite-related churches around the world,” says Ray Brubacher.
Along with a planning team representing other MWC member churches in the region, Ray Brubacher organized daily watch parties in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, during Mennonite World Conference’s Assembly 17 in Indonesia, 5-10 July 2022.
Taking part a little bit
Each day, a different local church pastor served as “host” for the local event. When First Hmong Mennonite was host, the women’s group sold 500 homemade spring rolls to raise money for a ministry in Asia.
Seventy people attended the opening event showcasing Indonesian culture at First Mennonite Kitchener. After a few days of an average of 20 in attendance, some 40 people gathered for the closing ceremony at Meheret Evangelical Church. This church of first-generation immigrants from Ethiopia was chosen to acknowledge the host country of the next Assembly in 2028.
In Fresno, California, USA, Willow Avenue Mennonite hosted watch parties along with another two local congregations to screen plenaries, music and testimonies. Decorations from the local Mennonite Central Committee fair trade store adorned tables where participants enjoyed refreshments during a daily 90-minute gathering. On two days, they had a Zoom call with local church members who were in Indonesia.
“It meant a lot of trying everyday – trying to find out if the Internet connection is working,” says Erwin Röthlisberger who watched Assembly sessions with Evangelische Mennoniten-Gemeinde Bern, Switzerland. “But it was nice to hear something from Indonesia and take part a little bit.”
At Bethel Place, a retirement home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Henry and Marie Dueck coordinated watch parties in the common room.
Bethel Place programming coordinator Melanie Camara helped the Duecks to set up the broadcast attended by 20-25 people – most of them retired missionaries, service workers or others with international experience.
Due to pandemic activities, “we’re used to the idea of logging in,” says Henry Dueck. “We learned things and felt the connection again.”
The international choir songs have become familiar, “so you can enter into worship,” says Marie Dueck.
Steps to an international event
Henry and Marie Dueck attended Assembly in Wichita (1978), Strasbourg (1984) and Winnipeg (1990) where Henry served as hosting coordinator. For Paraguay (2009) and Pennsylvania (2015), they also watched the sessions posted to YouTube.
Henry Dueck recalls the “sea change” appointment of Million Belete from Ethiopia as MWC president in 1978. The first Assembly held in the Global South, “Curitiba (1972) was a step; Wichita was a step; India (1997) was a step” to a gathering that reflects all members of the international family.
The strength of the Indonesia church, which first revealed itself to Henry Dueck in the 1960s was again on display. “It is eye-opening to see that camaraderie between groups doing significant interfaith dialogue,” says Marie Dueck. “You have those moments when you learn new things about that community [like Indonesia], and you realize, oh, that church has been there for a long time [GITJ and GKMI].”