Invited to the table

Tonya Ramer Wenger is Magdalena, Micah, Reuben and Joanna’s mom, Jonathan’s wife, and currently serves as lead pastor at First Mennonite Church in Hutchinson Kansas. Walking, knitting, baking bread, singing with a seasonal community choir and reading books to Joanna are all things that fill her non-working time. If you are looking for some bedtime reading material, right now she and Joanna highly recommend Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. This post originally appeared on Mennonite Church USA’s convention blog.

Our almost four year old daughter Joanna, the youngest of four kids in our family, still talks about going to “childcare.” She’s been talking about it for a long time. Almost two years. I can hardly believe she remembers the Mennonite Church USA Kansas City convention in 2015, but clearly something stuck with her. She absolutely loved the children’s activities. Every morning she waited with impatient anticipation to set out on our way to childcare, and one of my favorite moments was watching her be welcomed and invited in each day. She was so delighted to find her spot at a table and play with playdough as the rest of the kids arrived.

She was given a place to belong, a place at the table.

Our oldest child, Magdalena, just turned 16. She was three months old when my husband and I took her to Nashville in 2001 where the decision was made to form Mennonite Church USA. It was not lost on me then, nor is it now, that she would roughly parallel the age of Mennonite Church USA as she grew. She joined me at many Mennonite Mission Network Board meetings in those days when the new mission agency was taking shape — even celebrating her first birthday with the board! She now is a high school sophomore, busy with many things she enjoys (along with some things that she does because she has to!), and looking toward her future. Certainly her first 16 years have had their ups and downs, successes and losses, and the same is true for Mennonite Church USA. There has been a lot to learn for all of us, with more than a few growing pains along the way. My 12 years on the Mission Network Board gave me a glimpse into the inner workings of one arm of the denomination and the courage, vulnerability, honesty and persistence it took to begin to become Mennonite Church USA.

We are still becoming as a denomination, just as Magdalena is still growing … moving through adolescence and into adulthood.

I was thrilled that when tapped by some lay leaders in my congregation about the new Step Up program for high school youth, Magdalena was immediately interested and willing to be nominated. As it turns out, she will be one of Western District Conference’s three Step Up participants. Through Step Up she’ll have opportunity to participate in the Future Church Summit — adding her voice to a larger church process, dreaming about the future of the church. This is in fact what she is most excited about — the opportunity to sit and talk with the adults around the delegate tables and to add her opinions into the mix. There might not be playdough on these tables, but I know she too will be happy to be welcomed to the table and invited into the conversation.  Together we’ll listen and yield toward the activity of God’s Spirit shaping us for the future.