The dust is beginning to settle and another annual conference assembly is in the books. I started out this weekend with great trepidation and it wasn’t without cause.
We fellowshiped together.
We worshipped together.
We felt frustrated with each other.
We continued to ignore some of the elephants in our midst, but identified other elephants.
We built up fences between us.
And then just when all hope seemed to be lost, when deep and permanent fractures seemed to loom on the horizon for the Ohio Mennonite Conference of MC USA, the Holy Spirit moved among us and helped us find a gate that opened in our dividing fence.
We, as a conference, have found a way to draw a line in the sand, but also leave enough space to allow grace and mercy to intercede when needed.
In the midst of emotional highs and lows, some very gifted pastors helped us to remember that we are all different and come from different places, and that is a good thing! While all six pastors that spoke to us delivered wonderful messages that were incredibly timely for the issues we were working on, two of these pastors in particular stuck out and struck deep chords in me.
Pastor Jess Engle started his time with us with a response time. He asked us, “Who is the church?”, to which we all responded, “WE are the church!” He made us look at each other and remember that we are all beloved children of God, not nameless, faceless foes on the other side of the fence.
Another pastor, Jessica Schrock Ringenburg from Zion Mennonite in Archibold, gave an inspired sermon during morning worship that was beyond amazing! Her incredibly powerful message, paraphrased here, reminded us that:
Paul spent his time writing letters. Letters to the early churches that were struggling in very similar ways to our churches today. Each of those letters was about the same thing, addressing the various issues that were arising in those congregations. The Gentile/Greek Christians who valued freedom and spirit leading that were at odds with the Jewish Christians who valued traditions and laws. Just like us today, each of those groups thought that they had the market cornered on doing church the right way. Their way. Both sides wanted Paul to champion their way, but Paul picks neither as the right way. He consistently remind them,that the only right way is the way of the cross. Two thousand years later that hasn’t changed.
Church, and how we do church, is a very personal thing to each of us. Just as we are all inherently different, no two people have the same exact idea of what it is we need to do in order to be the church together. But Jesus showed us exactly how to be church together. It is not the Church of Us. It is not the Church of Them. We are the church and the right way to be church together is to go the way of the cross.
Our pastors can rest easy with the blessed assurance that our conference is standing behind them. Our leadership now has some clear action steps to take. Only the Holy Spirit working among us could have stemmed the tide of destruction we were heading for as a conference.
Our work has only just begun.
We must now dig in and work diligently with each other as we continue to work through the remaining elephants in the room. But won’t it be so much easier to extend hospitality to those elephants now that we have a gate which they can walk through?
Because of the gate, we can now move forward together.
Praise God, who is good!