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Photo: Delegates during table discussion. Photo by Vada Snider.
On the first day of the Mennonite Church USA delegate assembly July 3, delegates started a Bible study on themes of unity in Ephesians and heard a state-of-the-church message from executive director Glen Guyton.
Moderator David Boshart told the nearly 500 delegates that although no resolutions were planned, they would be considering the questions, “what is God calling us to be, what is God calling us to do, where is the Journey Forward taking us?”
Tom Yoder Neufeld, professor emeritus of religious studies at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario, led the first of three daily Bible studies on Ephesians.
Describing the theme of his presentations, “Gathered into One,” he said: “This is a oneness that defies our imagination. It is nothing less than participating in the unity of God.”
He focused on the “peace poem” of Ephesians 2:14-16.
Because God is a successful gatherer, God’s unity is full of diversity.
“It takes every ounce of skill, patience and especially love to cope with the success of God’s gathering,” Yoder Neufeld said. “Unity is hard work. Blame it on God!”
Though “our world is torn by fear of what or who is strange or different,” he said, “let’s not point the finger too quickly at the world” — because Anabaptists also participate in a culture of suspicion, shaming or shunning those whose views or behaviors we disdain.
“Mennonites have got separation down,” Yoder Neufeld said. Noting that we recognize injustices like sexism and racism, “maybe we add schism to the isms that are problems for us… Let’s put the ceaseless struggle for unity at the core of our understanding of discipleship.”
Returning to the theme of God’s problem-creating success as a gatherer of diverse people, he said, “The church is a mess,” and the delegates responded, “Thanks be to God!”
The state of the church
Glen Guyton, MC USA executive director, addressed delegates on the state of the church.
“The church is changing — not just Mennonite Church USA but the body of Christ,” he said. “The world’s view of us is changing, and the question is, how will we respond? Will we remain relevant, or will internal politics distract us from our vision of healing and hope?”
Guyton said he sees a lot of hope, “even in our disagreements.”
“I see trust building,” he said. “I get a renewed sense that people want to be connected to our historic peace church.”
He listed several things the denomination needs, including more resources of volunteers and money.
He said the denomination needs less structure — to move away from mechanical authority and toward relational authority.
The denomination needs to embrace the gifts of all generations and develop the next generation of leaders.
For years, Guyton said, the new denomination struggled with how to come together and then with how to be together.
“In the last few years we have wondered if we could stay together,” he said. “Now it is time to work together as Christ’s church, led by the Holy Spirit.”
The church, Guyton said, is “imagining new ways of being” and “living into our renewed commitments.”
If Jesus came to your town
Delegates discussed those commitments as they continued the Journey Forward process that emerged from the Future Church Summit at Orlando 2017.
After Orlando, a team wrote a one-page document outlining three renewed commitments. These are summarized as: 1) follow Jesus; 2) witness to God’s peace; and 3) experience transformation.
Delegates spent 25 minutes around tables discussing what following Jesus means for them.
They responded to this question: “Based on how you read Scripture, if Jesus were to talk into your town today, where would he go, what would he say and what would he do?”
Many said Jesus would meet people in their places of need. He might go to the elementary school and listen to the children. He would question our priorities and worldly interests. He might say we’re not doing our job of feeding the poor and helping the immigrants.
After several delegates began their responses with “he would…” Phil Rempel of Albany Oregon, said, “Who says he’s a he this time?” and added, “He would say, blessed are you who love each other.”
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