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Photo: Facilitator Catherine Barnes thanks members of the Future Church Summit design team on Saturday. Design team members (from left to right) are Glen Guyton, Chantelle Todman Moore, Iris de Leon-Hartshorn, Luke Gascho, Terry Shue, Isaac Villegas, Ken Burkholder, Janie Beck Kreider, Annabeth Roeschley, Hyun Hur, Katherine Jameson Pitts, Todd Erikson and Michelle Armster. Photo by Vada Snider.
After more than 12 hours of meeting together July 6-8, participants in the Future Church Summit (FCS) agreed upon major themes to help answer the overarching question for the large-group visioning process, What does it mean to follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century? The report then went to delegates.
FCS participants included delegates to the Mennonite Church USA assembly plus more people representing MC USA agencies, constituency groups, and others in a concerted effort to build a group representative of the diversity across MC USA. Participants also included 37 high school youth as part of the new Step Up program.
Catherine Barnes of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in Harrisonburg, Virginia, led the process, while an FCS “theme team” processed responses from participants. Individuals sent responses to the team throughout the meetings. The team then grouped them under categories and noted trends that emerged in participant submissions.
During afternoon sessions, participants were able to dream together about the central question for the FCS: How will we follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century?
Participants had a chance to share their own dreams for how this gets lived out through large-group plenary sessions, as well as discussions around table groups. They also reflected on what witness-peacemaking and evangelism—look like as the Mennonite church strives to live them out.
Throughout the sessions, calls for centering the voices of people of color, LGBTQ individuals and other marginalized groups continued to build.
Delcherie Begay, representing Native Mennonite Ministries in the Future Church Summit process, shared with the group her lament that, “I don’t see a lot of my people here. We don’t have a voice right now.”
Cyneatha Millsaps, who works for Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes, noted that, “I’ve heard all the diversities named up here but not the poor. And those are the people that Jesus talks about over and over.”
Gary Wolfer, of Journey Mennonite Church, South Hutchinson, Kansas, reminded attendees that the church needs to keep Christ at the center of all its work. “Peace without Jesus doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
Barnes reminded participants that “sometimes the powerful thing that comes out of a process like this is that we begin to ask the right questions.”
The theme-team summary emphasized that participants hope the church will find ways to create “alternative, countercultural communities” inspired by the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
On Friday evening, FCS attendees participated in World Café event in which they responded to a set of three questions: What do we gain as part of Mennonite Church USA? How do we best relate within our shared denomination? And, What are the important things we do together?
Participants rotated from table to table during the World Café, intentionally mixing with members from other table groups. During each conversation, participants sketched and wrote out their ideas on large sheets of paper spread across tables and sent their ideas and notes to the theme team for processing.
Some themes that were highlighted for things the church does together included worship, singing and prayer; sharing life together in community; participating in service and mission; grappling with Scripture together; “integrating difference through new ways of being and doing,” and advocating for peace and justice.
The theme team summarized all the work of FCS participants throughout the process in a Future Church Summit Outcomes report that is available online.
On Saturday, FCS participants had a chance to vote individually in response to two questions: How confident are you that the common themes presented reflect the content of discussions at the FCS and the discussion in the World Café process? Participants were asked to vote using a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing low confidence and 5 representing high confidence. The votes came in with an average of 4.3 and 4.2, respectively.
The theme team’s report was commended to delegates, who overwhelmingly voted to accept it as “a dynamic document that is offered to the church to guide further discernment for living in God’s calling in agencies, conferences, constituency groups and congregations.”
This language was different from the resolution’s original language, which stated that the FCS report would serve as “the direction of our national body.” Read more about the final Delegate Assembly session and this decision.
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