The Church We Long to Be

Last week I participated in the Mennonite Church USA Future Church Summit. It was a structured conversation about who we want to be as Mennonites and what we hope for our church. Here is a summary of what I heard:

FCS reflection

  • Jesus” this and “Jesus” that. Mennonites love Jesus. We want to follow Jesus. Everything else we talked about flows out of our desire to be faithful disciples of Jesus.
  • We want to read scripture in light of Jesus’ teachings. We want to interpret scripture together in community and allow these sacred stories to shape us as individuals, as congregations, and as a church.
  • We want to be a peace church. Not just an anti-war church, but a church that lives out the shalom of God.
  • And we know that an important part of living out peace is working for justice.
  • Our vision of peace and justice includes caring for creation as a way of serving the Creator and honoring each other.
  • We love our music and worshiping together.
  • We need to pray for each other and for our church.
  • Even though some of us are squeamish about the word, we still long for an evangelistic faith. We want to be a church that shares the good news of Jesus in word and, especially, in deed. We want to be the people of God in a way that draws other people to us and, therefore, into relationship with Christ.
  • We believe that if we are faithful, we will be weird. Following Jesus in the ways of peace, justice, and community means our lives will not look like the lives of the dominant culture. To conform to Christ we must resist conforming to the world.
  • We want the Holy Spirit to shape us and transform us into a new church that is full of joy and life and love.
  • Over and around and within all of these dreams for our church, there is a growing desire to be fully inclusive of all people. We are beginning to recognize the ways we have marginalized many different groups: Native Americans, African Americans, Latinx, Asian Americans, women, and LGBTQ people. And in recognizing the sins of the past, we prepare ourselves to move forward into a more just and vibrant future.

Friends, THIS is a church I want to be part of. It is the church I need to be part of. It is the reason I joined the Mennonite church nearly fifteen years ago, and it is the reason I’m still here even though many have suggested I should leave for a denomination that is already more in line with my theology of inclusion.

I know that some people sat at tables where hurtful things were said about people on the margins. I know that the work of the Summit was undermined by a few fearful conservative voices, a(nother) bad process, and timid leadership.

There is a lot of room here for anger and disappointment and frustration and grief. And I imagine I will delve into all of that in another post.

Right now I am encouraged to know that my deepest longings for church are shared by so many people. This knowledge brings me joy and encouragement for the work ahead.

I’ve been thinking about that little Sunday school song: “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple.” I’d like to proposed a slightly revised version:

The church is not a process,
a resolution or committee,
for sure it’s not the executive board,
the church is you and me.

I am the church. You are the church.
We are the church together.

Amen.

And also note this addition Kathy Evans, Michelle Burkholder and I made to the MCUSA time line:

mcusa time line

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6 thoughts on “The Church We Long to Be

  1. Thanks for leading the way in this. This sounds like a church I am happy to be part of, too, as part of the Mennonite family. We, in Canada, sometimes look south for inspiration. I have enjoyed some of the materials Mennonite Women USA have developed over the years.

  2. Thank you, Joanna, for this. I was there, too, and felt as though we held a mirror up to ourselves…and, as is typical when I look in the mirror, there were things we loved about ourselves and things we loathed. Overwhelmingly, we’re committed to that imperfect being we see in the mirror, because we believe the Spirit is still at work. Grateful for your words here, the “direction” you have distilled, and the tangible hope of a resolution in 2019… 🙂

  3. Thanks Joanna. I missed being in Orlando, so I appreciate your description of hopefulness. Indeed perhaps the long arc of history that bends toward justice in the end, can help accomplish an “end around” run that leaves Boards and timid leadership, and botched process in the dust! And if you can get that Membership Guidelines change on the agenda for 2019, I’ll be there to weep and dance in the aisle!

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