by Kris Anne Swartley
In the spring of 2014, Doylestown Mennonite Church’s three-year experiment, called the missional journey, came to an end. We celebrated the many ways we tried our hand at living out God’s mission in our neighborhood, from soccer camps to storm kitchens during power outages, to community days to outdoor worship services, to prayer walking at our work places. With that part of our journey concluded, we began to ask, “What’s next?”
Leadership discerned that more equipping was necessary in order for us to move forward. At the same time, I heard that Tim Soerens and Paul Sparks, from Seattle Washington and The Parish Collective ministry, were doing tours and training all across North America and the United Kingdom. This was in conjunction with their new book, The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community. We contacted them and set up a training day.
On Saturday, February 28, people from Doylestown Mennonite gathered with attendees from seven churches and two conferences. We mapped out our neighborhoods and reflected on what being faithfully present might look like there. Scattered throughout the day were stories of entering into God’s mission at work, at play, through our talents and passions, and through surprising moments when someone’s need connected with our abundance. Many of us began networking with others who live and work nearby, and whom we could partner with for God’s mission.
A significant take-away for our congregation is that formation and mission cannot be separated. We will be transformed as we continue to follow Jesus into our local parishes. Our lives will be changed, and that might feel uncomfortable to us. At times it is easy to approach mission, whether local or international, as something we do with the answers. Tim and Paul encouraged us to approach mission as listeners and learners, watching for where God was already at work, trusting that people’s deepest desires are God-given and good. As we listen and watch and learn, as we rub shoulders with people outside our usual social groups, we will certainly find God revealing new things to us and inviting us to see ourselves and others in new ways.
Another take-away for us is that this is slow work. Faithful neighborhood presence is not a program and it is not an event. Faithful presence is for the long haul. It is a long-term commitment to place and to people, to listening and connecting, to earning trust by being there over time, to working for the common good with our neighbors. Gone are the days when you could advertise an event or a special Sunday service and people would flock to the church to be part of the program, and a large part of me is thankful those days are gone. I’m becoming convinced that it is small things over large amounts of time, that yield the deep fruit of salvation, for those outside “the church,” and also for me. We are transformed as we journey along the way. All of us are. I am thankful that this weekend of training and fellowship marked another milestone along the journey of entering into God’s mission and being changed, for Doylestown Mennonite congregation and others as well.
Kris Anne Swartley is the minister for missional journey at Doylestown Mennonite Church.