Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – The Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) unit
in Seattle welcomed more than 70 alumni and community members into the weathered
three-story unit house Sept. 15 to celebrate MVS’s 50-year presence in the
the house’s eight bedrooms were opportunities for alumni to reminisce. Butcher
paper taped on one wall served as a unit timeline, with markers available
for anyone to write in their service years, or any other notable unit event. The living room coffee table served as a haiku station. One alumni-penned haiku read: “So many
lentils! Sunset views from the back roof. Stinky compost bin.” Papers adorned every bedroom door, awaiting occupant signatures and a running pro/con list of each sleeping area. Old photos laid out across tables gave Kodachrome glimpses into a unit
and a community that had changed and adapted over the last five decades.
The unit, started
in 1969 through a partnership with the then newly formed Seattle Mennonite
Church, officially closed after the 2018-2019 service term completed in July.
those present at the September gathering acknowledged the bittersweet nature of
the reunion, the overall tone was celebratory.
a lot more joy than I expected,” Jessica Wright said. Wright, pastor of
Evergreen Mennonite Church in Kirkland, Washington, is a Seattle MVS alum, and served
with the unit from 2011-2013. “There was a lot of gratitude, not only for the
way that the MVS program has shaped the lives of participants … but also for
the way that it’s shaped the churches and this city.”
The first unit
participants were conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War, most working with
the Seattle Mental Health Institute. When conscription for the war ended in
1972, the unit accepted a wider range of volunteers. This necessitated purchasing
the three-story unit house in 1976, and a second, smaller unit house in 1980. While
the second unit house closed in the mid-1980s, the three-story unit house
remained an icon.
“It has a
lot of bumps and bruises, but it seems like a classic MVS house to me,” Wright
said. “It’s a big, old place.”
which had many different color schemes over the years, is now olive green with
white trim. The spacious backyard has borne witness to generations of gardens, fire
rings, and chickens housed in homemade coops.
“For a lot
of folks, that house, the physical structure, is pretty important,” Wright
said. “I’m just glad to be able to come back one more time.”
Church and Seattle Mennonite Church served as co-sponsor congregations to the
unit, and their members invited participants to services, retreats, and ever-appreciated
the two congregations, some of whom were MVS Seattle alumni,
served on the unit’s support committee, helping to nurture and manage the
participants and the house.
the community built within these walls that has extended to community across
the city,” Laura Schlabach, an MVS Seattle alum and Seattle Mennonite Church
member, wrote in a piece read at the gathering. “For the role the MVS program
has played in who we are today, individually and as a community, we give