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Joanne Gallardo is pastor of faith formation at Berkey Avenue Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana.
I last attended a Hope for the Future gathering in 2012 and felt pretty out of place and lonely. I was new to ministry and new to the goings on of leadership in MC USA. This year, however, was part family reunion, part work and part celebration, all making for a wonderful weekend where I felt belonging.
Leaders of color from across Mennonite Church USA came together Feb. 8-11 in San Antonio, Texas, to pray, worship, dialogue and fellowship at the 2018 Hope for the Future gathering.
Our opening session included an inspiring message from Sue Park-Hur, co-pastor of Mountain View Mennonite Church, Upland, California. Her text was Exodus 1:15-21, telling the story of the midwives Shiphrah and Puah. Sue described these midwives as co-conspirators in resisting Pharaoh. Breaking down the entomology of the word “conspire,” we learned that one of the ways we can resist Empire and fear God is by “breathing together.” I found this helpful in terms of framing our weekend. If, as a group, we could “breathe together,” maybe this could forge new territory for us as a gathered body.
A time of celebration was had when news broke of the appointment of Glen Guyton as executive director of Mennonite Church USA. As a group we prayed over and anointed Glen, thanking God for his years of service in the Mennonite church and asking God to bless him as he pioneers his way into being the first MC USA executive director of color.
With this celebration came some anxiety: Many of us worried about potential backlash from others who may not appreciate this appointment, as Glen deviates from the dominant culture from which many of us navigate and operate. A special break-out group was formed to discuss what might be done when we encounter negative responses.
A moment of disappointment for me came when we came together after brainstorming ideas for a letter to be sent to MC USA as a whole regarding our “hope for the future.” I was a part of a writing team, along with Jenny Castro, Wil LaVeist and Richard Aguirre, that was tasked with drafting the letter after hearing input from the broader group following break-out sessions, small group discussion and large group conversations. The letter received pushback mainly around the question of LGBTQ inclusion. As this was not a “planned” discussion topic, conversation was unruly, heated and at times disrespectful. Personally, there were times in this discussion where I felt silenced, unseen and unheard.
I see this discussion as a microcosm of what is happening in the broader church, and let me be clear, not just among people of color. It was a good reminder that I need to, for my own benefit, be willing to feel uncomfortable when it comes to discussing difficult questions, and to get out of my echo chamber and hear voices from across the spectrum of ideologies and beliefs. I still love these folks with whom I disagree. We can disagree and still be respectful. We can disagree and I can still hold strongly to my beliefs on inclusion. This is what family is all about, not conformity but harmony, the ability to be at peace with one another and still be our beautiful, unique, whole and individual selves.
That idea was brought home by Chantelle Todman Moore, who brought us the closing message. She encouraged us to talk “with” one another, not “at” or “past” one another. We were inspired to see ourselves as siblings in Christ, as fully human with the spark of the divine dwelling in each of us. We concluded our time with prayer, silence and the singing of “Spirit of the living God.”
It may be rough in places, but together we are pioneering a new future for MC USA, a future that is multicultural and multi-lingual, where black and brown leaders are able to use their gifts and be both seen and heard. This is a new path and a new future. As was quoted this weekend, “Caminanate, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.” (Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking).
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