By Danilo Sanchez, Lehigh Valley Youth Minister
Hope for the Future gatherings bring together leaders of color from across the church, sometimes with white allies, to explore the ways that power, privilege and racism function in our denomination. For its 7th annual gathering, participants met in San Antonio, TX. Nearly 70 people of color attended the gathering and represented various Mennonite organizations, institutions, and churches across the U.S.
“The beggars are marching. And Christ is in their midst. Where are the saints?”
These prophetic words come from Dr. Vincent Harding’s sermon at the Mennonite World Conference in Amsterdam in 1967 when he called upon the Mennonite church to no longer be the “quiet in the land” and identify with the oppressed and marginalized in our communities. It was a call for confession, unity and action. Vincent’s words became our theme and motivated us as we met for Hope for the Future and looked to the future of the Mennonite church. During our weekend together, we were encouraged to dream, breathe as one, and care for one another. It was a time of unity and empowerment.
I felt the Spirit moving among us as we sang praises to God. I felt the Spirit stirring inside me as speakers like Sue Park-Hur, Glen Guyton, Dr. Juan Martinez, and Chantelle Todman-Moore shared their hope for the future. I witnessed the Spirit’s power from the testimony of the Goshen community who stopped an immigration detention facility from being built in their town. I saw the Spirit descend as we anointed and prayed for Glen Guyton as the new Executive Director of MC USA. The Holy Spirit was ready to work among us.
One of our main goals for the conference was to write a prophetic letter to Mennonite Church USA. The prophetic word started in small groups where we each shared what was on our heart. Then four gifted writers compiled each group’s words into one voice. The writers later shared the letter with the large group and we discussed. The major themes that emerged were being centered in Christ and the Holy Spirit, love one another despite our differences, be visibly active in the world, and invite the next generation into leadership. Many of these themes were affirmed, but some were not comfortable with the language of “celebrating and embracing” all members of the body of Christ; specifically, inclusion of LGBTQ members. At this point heated words were exchanged and the sense of unity that we experienced in the first half of the conference was shattered. As one leader said, we were no longer speaking to or with one another, but speaking past each other. How can we have any prophetic witness or word for the church, let alone the world, when we can’t even love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ despite our differences? Our group struggled to move forward. In the end, we decided the letter needed more time for discernment since we were not able to affirm all that was in the letter.
As I walked back to my hotel room, the Spirit gave me a song that we sang at Ripple one Sunday. The words of the song are,
“I need you. You need me.
We’re all a part of God’s body.
Stand with me. Agree with me.
We’re all a part of God’s body.
It is his will that every need be supplied.
You are important to me. I need you to survive.
I pray for you. You pray for me
I love you. I need you to survive
I won’t harm you
With words from my mouth
I love you. I need you to survive”
What simple yet profound, beautiful words. Despite our differences, are we able to say to all members of Christ’s body, “I love you. I need you to survive”? Many times, we are not. In our desire for both unity and holiness, we often harm one another with our words and leave some feeling invisible and rejected. But the Church throughout history has always struggled with unity and holiness; this is nothing new. Reflecting on Paul, N.T. Wright says, “In almost every letter we can see Paul urging two things upon his churches: unity and holiness…It is comparatively easy to work for unity if you don’t care about holiness; you just adopt a laissez-faire anything-goes strategy. And it is comparatively easy to work for holiness if you don’t care about unity; you just go on splitting the church over each moral disagreement. The trick is to work for both at the same time.”
Holding unity and holiness both equally is hard. The Mennonite church right now is struggling hard with how to live that out. I don’t believe it is the task of one person to find the path forward, but rather the Church must submit to the voice of the Spirit and discern together. My hope is that the Eternal One- who was, who is, and who will be- will lead us into all Truth and Grace.