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Jerrell Williams is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary and is student assistant pastor at Pittsburgh Mennonite Church.
I didn’t grow up in the Mennonite church. I always have some reservation when attending Mennonite conferences.
I didn’t know what to expect as I traveled from Pittsburgh to San Antonio to attend the seventh annual Hope For The Future gathering, which allows Mennonites of color to meet together to connect and talk about how we can combat the racism we see within the church and our world. I wondered, Will I fit in? Will I know anyone? Is this a safe space?
When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised at what I saw: all different shades represented in one room. I didn’t even know we had that many people of color in the Mennonite church.
I was introduced to the Mennonite church during my undergraduate studies at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas. There I only saw white Mennonites. We had the Yoders, Kreiders, Regiers and Unruhs. In my mind I thought the Mennonite church was a white church. That was all I had seen. I thought I was just a black man operating within a white Mennonite circle. I felt as if there was no room for my story.
I found out at the Hope for the Future gathering that I was wrong. As I walked into the room for our first meeting, I saw a side of the Mennonite church I had never seen before. I saw the color within the Mennonite church.
We laughed with each other as we connected around our tables. We motivated and encouraged each other to continue to fight the good fight. We celebrated each other and our differences. We sung songs that spoke to the liberative acts of our God. We rejoiced as we heard about the appointment of Glen Guyton as the new executive director of Mennonite Church USA. We saw each other’s passion for racial reconciliation, immigration, LGBTQ rights and gender equality. We shared stories of how God has worked within our lives and within our communities. We also, as most families do, argued with each other about what the next steps need to be to see the beloved community for which we all are praying .
At Hope For The Future I met people, who like me, found the Mennonite church. Many of us weren’t born into it. Many of us couldn’t trace our history to Swiss-German Mennonite roots. Instead, we focused on a different story – a story that included people who have been invisible for so long.
Hope For The Future is proof that one can’t tell the whole story of the Mennonite church without mentioning the involvement of people of color.
I had always wondered if being a Mennonite was the right decision for me. After Hope For The Future I believe I have made the right decision. I now see I have a place in the church. I can sit at the table with my other brothers and sisters of color who are working toward change.
I am black. I am a Mennonite. I am a Christian. I am a child of God. And I will continue to walk alongside my brothers and sisters of color as we continue to fight for justice for all in our fallen world.
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