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A new church: Envisioning, becoming and impacting

8.1. 2017 Written By: Rolando Santiago 374 Times read

Rolando Santiago has served in Anabaptist Mennonite institutions as an administrator and teacher for eighteen years. Currently, he is the executive director of the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, which also includes the 1719 Herr House and Museum, and a replica longhouse of the Eastern Woodland Indians. Rolando earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University at Albany in 1994. He is married to Raquel Trinidad and has two adult children. 

I went to the Future Church Summit as one of the stakeholders from church organizations, agencies and partnering groups who were invited to participate in this churchwide discernment process with the larger group of Mennonite Church USA delegates.

My current life experiences shaped the comments I made at my table group. I serve on the board of Mennonite Health Services (MHS), the church agency that sent me to the summit. I am also an elder at Neffsville Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a healthy congregation with a diversity of theological positions among its members. And I am also the executive director of Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society (LMHS).  LMHS relates to both Atlantic Coast Conference and Lancaster Mennonite Conference. It organizes educational programs that help people from both conferences apply historical thinking skills to reflect on who they are as Anabaptists of the 21st century.

I read the final report from the Future Church Summit several times while preparing for this reflection. The report was a summary of ideas from participants who shared their thoughts in table groups. These thoughts were converted to messages sent electronically to a Theme Team. The Theme Team summarized thousands of comments from table groups into a final report.

This discernment process created for me a new image of the church: a church that is continuously envisioning, becoming and impacting.

Envisioning. The new Mennonite Church USA is inviting people to envision what the church should be. The people of this church follow Jesus and his teachings, including Jesus’ peace witness. The Holy Spirit guides the community of faith to discern what God is calling it to be. The God of our church invites the most vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed people into its fold. The church addresses privilege within itself through repentance and humility. Its people offer creative gifts so that the church can thrive and grow. These gifts come from people’s diverse histories, cultures, theologies and understandings about human sexuality.

Becoming. Our new church practices collective discernment to decide what the church will become. The people of this church invite the Holy Spirit to guide them in discerning what God calls them to be by studying Scripture with each other, listening to each other’s diverse perspectives and nurturing contemplative prayer. The belief in the priesthood of all believers makes them value the gifts that each person brings. They commit to redistribute power and resources. They confront and restore each other in love. They reach consensus on how they will reach their goals. No one is left behind.

Impacting. The new denomination’s purpose impacts the world. The church is a witness for peace in times of turmoil. It’s a church that addresses global economic, health, environmental and migration injustices. The church seeks to address racism, refugee crises, wars, global warming, sexual violence, nationalism, individualism and other societal ills. People in the church join to act together to confront institutional sin.

What is missing from this new image of the church? I saw few comments about inviting others to join faith communities that transform the world. How do we invite others without coming across in a paternalistic way? I also heard few references to how we care for our fragile church institutions in times when budgets and resources are decreasing.  How do we care for these institutions, address their flaws, and build their financial assets?

When we invite people into our communities of faith, when we care for our church institutions and when we also affirm the unique gifts of congregations, area conferences and the denomination, the church will fulfill its mission to bring healing and hope to the world.
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