When you’re in the stomping grounds of Mickey and Minnie, surrounded by palm trees in the heart of the Sunshine State, you might forget that Orlando history also has its share of despair.
That’s something that Sarah Bixler of Princeton, New Jersey, pointed out early in last night’s adult opening worship service.
“We are meeting in the space of the Seminoles,” she said. “We acknowledge and honor the people on whose land we meet today. We lament how most of these peoples were exterminated and displaced by the United States.”
Bixler, along with worship co-leader Shannon Dycus of Indianapolis set a thoughtful tone for the evening, also referencing the Pulse Nightclub shooting just one year ago.
In light of that pain and violence, Dycus said, Mennonites must be asking some key questions:
“What does it mean for us to be a peace church?” she asked. “How will we put love into action?”
But we can’t extend love to others until we have “deep roots grounded in God’s love,” Bixler said later. So Tuesday’s service focused on tending those roots.
The evening moved fluidly through prayer, scripture, a series of meditations and songs led by an eight-member worship band and provided an entry point to “Love is a Verb,” asking attendees to acknowledge the first step of putting love into action: “I am loved by God.”
Bixler said the adult services will move “from the internal to the external,” over the course of the week starting with a celebration of God’s love for us as individuals and ending with a call to spread that love to our neighbors.
And as dozens came forward to be anointed with oil at the end of the service they tended their roots and made plans to put love into action.
“Love is a verb, but we’re going to start tonight with love is a noun.”
Jon Heinly, worship leader for the youth convention, asked the youth to take this week to consider how they participate in God’s love for them, the person sitting beside them, their neighbors and everyone else. But first, they needed to start with the basics.
“God is love,” said Rachel Springer-Gerber, the denominational youth minister. “We love because God first loved us, and so that is where we’re going to need to start, at the very beginning. Love is here, and that means God is here.”
The evening focused on worship through music, a mixture of contemporary praise songs and hymns (which will be a staple of youth worship) led by Seth Crissman, who recognizes that not everyone has identical styles of worship.
“We will sing to God,” Crissman said, “because God is good and loved us first.”
After establishing love as a noun in the opening service, the rest of the week will build on the overall convention theme of “Love is a Verb.”
“I started thinking about what we were going to do at convention, and then thinking about God’s love in action,” said Glen Guyton, director of convention planning. “Verb is action. It’s energy, and what better theme for our convention for people to get excited about?” And they are excited.
“I’m anticipating finding new ways to show love,” said Khampahas Tempel, a youth from Broadway, Virginia, “and finding ways other people are showing love.”Tempel is not the only one.
“I hope to give myself up to God,” said Kaci Yoder, a youth from Goshen, Indiana, “and how it’s shown throughout the Bible and present day and what others think about that concept.” That’s exactly what this convention is about and what those in charge are hoping for.
“We want you to experience the love of God,” Guyton said. “We want you, even just as you worship, to breathe in God’s loving presence, as soon as you walk into this room and as you leave, just to carry that love with you.”
In the end, Heinly left those gathered in Chapin Theater with a question.
“What is one thing you’ll do to participate in God’s love in this world?”
Read the full issue of the Orlando Squeeze here.