On this day 30 years ago, Manitoba Mennonites were playing host to a global assembly of Anabaptists.
The 12th Mennonite World Conference Assembly took place in Winnipeg, Man. from July 24-29, 1990. The once-every-six-years event drew more than 12,000 registrants, including 1,600 from nearly 70 countries outside of North America. The theme was, “Witnessing to Christ in today’s world.”
Every major meeting place in Winnipeg was used, including what was at the time the three largest: the downtown Convention Centre, Winnipeg Arena (home to the first Winnipeg Jets hockey franchise) and Winnipeg Stadium (where the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team played from 1953 until 2012).
“There is something spine-tingling about worshipping with 17,000 Mennonites from around the world,” Margaret Loewen Reimer wrote in the Aug. 20, 1990 issue of the Mennonite Reporter (a predecessor publication of Canadian Mennonite), which featured extensive coverage of the assembly.
Loewen Reimer’s reflection was at times critical of the way worship was set up at the assembly, but she noted that all of the southern Manitoba Mennonites she spoke with were united in their praise of the event.
“Their horizons had been broadened by the exposure to many cultures and forms, and they felt deeply enriched,” she wrote.
Here are a few facts about the 1990 assembly:
- The event cost $3 million, or more about $5.2 million in today’s funds.
- More than 50 city buses were used to shuttle 7,000 people from the convention centre to the arena each night, and then back to their hotels or homes. Assembly participants were also given free use of the city bus lines.
- About 6,000 guests stayed in private homes in the city or within an hour’s drive.
- Canadian Mennonites raised $400,000 (more than $715,000 today) to help bring Mennonites from developing countries to Winnipeg.
- A van filled with 10 people drove 5,300 km. from Guatemala. It took them a week, travelling 12 hours a day.
- A pastor from the Philippines had to walk 100 km. out of an area devastated by an earthquake a week before the start of the assembly.
- Local Mennonites swelled the assembly attendance to 17,000 on the opening night at Winnipeg Arena. More than 20,000 flocked to the stadium for the closing service, which set a record at the time for the largest gathering of Mennonites in history.
Here are some photos from the assembly:
You can see more photos from the 1990 assembly here. The next Mennonite World Conference assembly is scheduled to take place July 6-11, 2021 in Semarang, Indonesia.
Were you at the 1990 assembly in Winnipeg? Share your memories in the comments.