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Photo: The Journey Forward writing team, from left: Sarah Bixler, Jack Swaim, Isaac Villegas, Natalie Francisco and Jon Carlson.
“On this journey together, we commit to: Follow Jesus; Witness to God’s peace; Experience Transformation,” reads the updated draft of core commitments for Mennonite Church USA’s denomination-wide renewal process, Journey Forward. As the church takes its next steps in Journey Forward, these three statements will serve as a springboard for Bible study, wrestling with identity and storytelling about how congregations live these values out in different ways and in different places.
The Journey Forward writing team – Sarah Bixler, Isaac Villegas, Natalie Francisco, Jack Swaim, Jon Carlson and MC USA staff representative Janie Beck Kreider – met Jan. 25-27 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to workshop an earlier draft of the document based on feedback they received from the Executive Board (EB) and a seven-person reference council. In this meeting, they named the document Renewed Commitments for MC USA, and it can now be found in its entirety at mennoniteusa.org.
In a Jan. 25 video conference call, the Journey Forward Reference Council responded to a previous draft of the document, challenging the writers to simplify the language, situate the commitments in the context of our current realities as a church, and “make the document sing” or sound poetic.
“The task that’s been asked of the writing team – to summarize the commons bonds of a national church with almost 70,000 members – has felt daunting at times. We have relied on the Holy Spirit and each other,” said Jon Carlson of the writing team. “I believe this draft can be a catalyst that generates discernment, dialogue, and maybe even some healthy disagreement, as we listen together for what God’s Spirit is saying to our church.”
In addition to naming three core commitments, the writing team crafted a preamble that confesses the belovedness of all creation, and the sin that fragments our wholeness and strains our relationships with God, each other and the world.
“Confronted with the misuses of power in our lives, communities and institutions, we seek to tell the truth and repent,” the updated document says.
Natalie Francisco of the writing team said, “It was important for us to emphasize that members of MC USA have experienced the misuse and abuse of power, which was articulated at the Future Church Summit held in Orlando. We lament this reality and were compelled by the Holy Spirit to address it in our identity document.”
The document continues, “The Holy Spirit beckons us toward the restoration of all things in Christ. God continually calls us beloved.”
The EB affirmed the work of the writing team in a Jan. 29 video conference call and voted unanimously to move forward with the process using this draft of the document for congregations to engage with and provide feedback throughout 2018.
In its current form, Renewed Commitments is available online and will be sent out to all congregations, accompanied by a study guide, on June 1. All congregations, area conferences, agencies and small groups interested in engaging with the Journey Forward process are encouraged to use the study guide in summer or fall 2018. The process will include multiple channels for providing feedback, which will inform the writing team and EB as they update Renewed Commitments for the Delegate Assembly at MennoCon19 in Kansas City.
MC USA staff released resources for area conference, constituency and agency leaders to host regional gatherings from now through May to orient their constituency to the Journey Forward process. They held a webinar for area conference and denominational leaders on Feb. 14 and have planned the next one for Feb. 19.
The Journey Forward process is propelled by the energy and outcomes of the Future Church Summit (FCS) in Orlando 2017, and extends the conversation for broader churchwide participation. The themes in the FCS Outcomes Report served as the basis for the writing team’s work on Renewed Commitments for MC USA.
“This process fulfills a promise to engage the denomination and give voice to the members of MC USA as they live out the mission of the church in their context,” said Glen Guyton, who initiated plans for the FCS and will serve as the next executive director of MC USA. “Because of the significant changes in the global church and in our Anabaptist churches in the last several years, the FCS was a way to gauge where we as MC USA are currently, and where we feel God has called us to go. The Journey Forward takes the next steps to center MC USA around our core commitments as Anabaptists.”
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