Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
Editor’s note: Following MennoCon19, several bloggers for The Mennonite are sharing reflections.
I’ve been part of the Mennonite church for 19 years. During that time, I’ve been trying to find places where I “fit” or, at the very least, feel comfortable. While the church has welcomed me with open arms, there are times where my theology, personhood or even my nationality has me feeling like the child that everyone points out as being adopted. I don’t like when families do that to their kin and I don’t like feeling that my membership of this group is the result of benevolent gatekeepers allowing me in. I am a full heir in this “family” and, indeed, during the opening worship of MennoCon19, we were all called “family.”
This week functioned very much like a family reunion. There was a lot of catching up, eating together, learning together and growing closer even though many of us live miles apart. I want to emphasize a moment and a movement in which I have felt particularly close to God, this denomination and my fellow Mennonites.
During the close of one of the worship services, we were asked to embrace the people around us. This is quite literally my worst nightmare, and people who know me well are very aware of my feelings on touch. I do hug people I’m particularly close to such as people from my congregation and little children who come toward me wanting an embrace. With strangers, I much prefer a handshake. We were given the option not to hug, which I was grateful for.
The next day, our worship leader came out with Anna Groff, executive director of Dove’s Nest and Glen Guyton, executive director of Mennonite Church USA. There was an apology made toward anyone who may have felt discomfort with the events that transpired. Anna and Glen demonstrated ways we can greet one another and show love and appreciation without embracing. We were told that high fives, handshakes, side hugs and “prayerful acknowledgement poses” are ways we can show one another we care, all given with the consent of each individual. We were told that this is both OK and healthy. I felt my way of ordering my world was holy, good and seen, and it moved me that the executive director of our denomination helped lead by example. This is my family.
MennoCon19 also marked the 10th year anniversary of Pink Menno. In 2009, I went to convention in Columbus as a delegate for my congregation. I had heard of Pink Menno and their desire to change the culture of excluding people on the basis of sexual orientation in Mennonite Church USA. I wanted to know more. They weren’t allowed a space in the convention center, so I wandered the several blocks to the “Pink Menno room” where, well, everything was pink. I listened to stories, attended seminars and worship services, and got to know folks who I would later consider to be a part of “my tribe.”
Ten years and many relationships and planning meetings later, I sat with my friends outside a former middle school turned Airbnb sheetcaking (the act of taking a fork and eating sheet cake straight from the sheet) and talking about how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go. These are fierce folks who are intersectional in their approach to justice work in the church and world. These are folks that allow me to feel some hope for the church of the future. This is my family.
My family is found in Mennonite Church USA, the messy, sometimes misguided, misjudged and misfit denomination I’ve claimed since 2000. Sometimes they claim me, sometimes they don’t, but our struggles together mirror that of any group of related persons. We argue, laugh, agree and pull away sometimes, but those of us who are committed will keep coming back to these reunions year after year after year. And for this, I am grateful. I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for our family.
Joanne Gallardo is pastor of faith formation at Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship in Goshen, Indiana.
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