Weeding and Walking a Celebration of Shalom

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim LEADership Minister & Director of Congregational Resourcing

Is pulling weeds “mission?”

I certainly thought so as a teenager, when I spent several summer evenings sitting on the grass, helping my neighbor weed her flower beds and talking about God as she struggled to find her way back to faith.  We were quite a picture, the awkward teen and the twenty-something-year-old masseuse.

Those years were exciting for my family — church planters on Philadelphia’s main line — as children from our neighborhood poured into our basement every week to hear stories about Jesus, play games, and receive our love.  While we were committed to acts of compassion and mutual aid in the name of Jesus, we were also dedicated to verbal evangelism and church planting as the most visible manifestation of God’s mission.

I cherish those memories, even as time and exposure to different faith expressions have given me more varied experience of what mission could look like: in the last few years alone, missional initiatives in Franconia Conference have included  peace camps and community gardens, picnics at the park and Biker Sunday, Sanctuary Churches for immigrants and survivors of sexual abuse, prayer walks, Bible studies at the pool, creation care initiatives, summer camps, disaster relief, refugee resettlement, supporting survivors of sex trafficking, prayer evangelism, working with families in need, a community center, prison ministry, making quilts, veterans ministrypeace poles, an internet café, bicycle ministry, drive-thru coffee and donuts, and church planting.

All of these expressions of mission point to the Good News: through Jesus, we are invited to share in God’s life; out of the overflowing of God’s life and love in us, we work for wholeness in the world around us.  That is the meaning of the word shalom: wholeness and health, demonstrated in reconciled relationships with God, others, ourselves, and the earth.

“That is why words like peace, justice, righteousness, and salvation are often used interchangeably in the New Testament,” says James Krabill in Fully Engaged: Missional Church in an Anabaptist Voice. “They are all different aspects of what Jesus came to bring, to be, and to do.”  The Church cannot separate witness and work, peace and evangelism.  “The faithful church preaches what Jesus practiced and practices what he preached.  And in so doing, [the Church] announces the whole gospel of Jesus to the broken world he so loved and for which he died.”

James KrabillSo what does it look like to be an Anabaptist church in mission?  According to Krabill, it means “doing what God does, loving the world—all of it—as much as God does, caring deeply for its welfare and working to set right what has gone wrong.”  Krabill (senior mission advocate for Mennonite Mission Network) will join Mennonites in eastern Pennsylvania this February for a conversation on mission and shalom.  “Celebration of Shalom: Stories of the Church in Mission” will feature stories and insights about mission from Fully Engaged as well as interactive storytelling from congregations in Franconia Conference and beyond, celebrating the diversity of God’s Spirit in sharing the Good News through both word and deed.

As a teenager, I never would have imagined the day two years ago that I participated in an early-morning prayer walk to pray for peace and healing after a murder in my neighborhood.  And as a teenager, I might not have recognized the walk as an act of mission.  Yet both my experiences—weeding and walking—were witnesses that, in Jesus, God will make all things right.  That is Good News indeed.

“Celebration of Shalom: Stories of the Church in Mission” will be held on Monday, February 13, 7pm, at Fischer Auditorium, Dock Woods Community, Lansdale, PA.  The event is free and open to all; donations for snacks will support local mission initiatives. For more information, contact Emily (eralphservant@franconiaconference.org).