Michelle Penner thinks RCMA is a wonderful association with lots to offer its members. But, she says, it's missing one thing: “More Canadians!”

Penner, who lives in Manitoba and is a married mother of three, was overwhelmed by her first RCMA conference in Louisville in 2007, and is on a mission to share the wealth of her experience and to bring more of her fellow Canucks into the fold this year.

“The first year, I was the only Canadian — the vendors called me ‘Michelle from Canada,’” she says. “The second year, in Orlando, it was me and another gal from our conference of churches, and the same in Grand Rapids this year.”

The Canadian woman who traveled with Penner to Orlando had previously searched without success for information on how much space one should allocate for buffet tables, per attending members. When she opened up her first issue of Religious Conference Manager — there was the answer. “She said, ‘Yes!’” Penner says.

In Grand Rapids, Penner formed an impromptu Canadian membership group and met with eight Canadian RCMA vendors and the one other Canadian meeting planner she knew. Together, they each pledged to sponsor at least one new member in the coming year.

“We're all interested in sponsoring new members,” she says. “The event planner who came with me last year sponsored two new planners. The vendors have a vested interest in getting more Canadian vendors. They're not only saying they want to do that, but they're also saying, ‘Give me a name, I'll sponsor them.’ We're trying to be proactive, even aggressive.”

Learning From Others

In very short order, Penner became an RCMA convert. But how did she hear about the association?

“I Googled ‘RCMA’ to find out what was out there in terms of professional development,” she says. “I put together an information package for my bosses, and they said, ‘Try it.’ Our execution of the next event was much smoother. Then they said, ‘You better go again.’”

With three conventions behind her, Penner says that she always learns at least one major new concept at the annual RCMA event. “The networking with other event planners may be even more valuable than the tutorials. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I learn from those who have done it 100 times before me. I say, ‘That's an idea we can implement in our next event.’”

Penner plans the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches' national Gathering meeting, a community-building event that attracts 2,000 attendees and meets in even years (next up is Celebration 2010, the 150th anniversary of the Mennonite Brethren in July 2010 in Langley, British Columbia).

She also is responsible for the Study Conference annual general meeting held during odd years that will draw 250 pastors and leaders in October 2009 in Saskatoon, as well as an annual pastors credentialing orientation scheduled this May in Montréal for 50 people. She also oversees internal events such as staff meetings, retreats, and the annual Christmas party.

She began her career as a religious meeting planner when she was hired by the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches as an executive assistant. That said, the greatest part of her job was planning and attending meetings.

In November 2008, the conference recognized Penner's job duties and performance, changing her title from executive assistant to event planner and making her part of the conference's communications department.

“I'm part of a larger team,” she says. “Now we're able to work more cohesively together. The perk is I can focus on the events. The board of directors decides on a vision, we develop it further, they bless me to implement, and away we go.”

The Perfect Job

“When I meet people from high school and I tell them what I'm doing, they say, ‘That's perfect for you!’

“I fell in love with my job. I love, love, love it! Can't get enough of it. I love that it's never the same thing twice. The diversity of people I meet. I love seeing everything we've worked on, all the pieces, come together to meet the vision with which we started. And I just love to see things I plan for people, whether it's home or work, run efficiently.”

So, Michelle — see you in Fort Worth for RCMA 2010?

“Oh, yes! With a whole bunch more Canadians, hopefully!”