by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister
At our annual assembly earlier this month, our delegate community affirmed two historic decisions that have potential to reshape our Conference. These were not easy and quick decisions, but rather the fruit of relationships and what we believe to be the leading of the Spirit. The Spirit relentlessly invites us toward transformation. We have discerned this time to say yes to the invitation.
These two movements will challenge the best of who we claim to be as followers of Jesus. The reconciliation process with Eastern District Conference sets out to reunite our communities into one body after over a century of separation. This kind of reconciliation work has been a hallmark of our identity as Anabaptist/ Mennonites. However, it’s a path we’ve rarely had the courage or humility to walk to restore relationships after theological/ecclesialogical differences in a way that offers a witness of the power of Christ’s peace. This affirmation intends to frame the work needed to restore the right fellowship that was torn asunder by disagreements and to work to acknowledge historic wounds. Admittedly, though, the details of this path ahead are yet to be determined.
This affirmation to move toward a unified conference, likely with a new name, means embracing a new identity that honors our shared past, our divergent paths and the truth of the reconciling power of Christ that we believe can transform us and the world. This is work that is local in the very spaces where some of our fore-parents resettled on this continent seeking a place of peace and flourishing. This will be hard work, but also a work of grace, the work of the Spirit among us.
At the same time, our Conference affirmed four new member congregations. All four congregations are comprised mostly of immigrants from Indonesia. These communities are an outgrowth of our global connectivity, our commitments that began over 100 years ago to seek to share Christ’s peace cross culturally with those who are also seeking a place of peace and flourishing in this hemisphere. These four communities extend our Conference in ways we may not have imagined before, stretching us now from southern Vermont to Southern California.
This move to welcome into membership the new congregations was shaped around our commitments to family and hospitality. These are core values and metaphors for our understanding of ourselves as a community. We are family — sisters and brothers. We extend gracious hospitality because we have received the gracious hospitality of Christ. We know that Christ again shows up when we extend that hospitality to others. Our overwhelming affirmation together of these four new communities is holy — the work that God has called us to for this time. The Spirit continues the gift of Pentecost among us, drawing us together across ethnicity, language, tribe and geography.
At a recent lecture at Swarthmore College, I heard Eboo Patel assert that people who climb mountains should not complain that climbing a mountain is difficult. We have discerned a path forward that is not easy and is unfamiliar. Jesus proclaimed that it’s not the easy path but that the burden itself is light. It is in such spaces that we rely on God, where we trust the Spirit who gives life to continue to guide us.
At the same time, we use all of our capacities. We use our strengths. We learn from those who have gone before us. We prepare for the journey ahead. We approach humbly but boldly. We continue to work and hope.
I am not naïve, nor should any of us be. This is a time when the church is more often being torn asunder rather than united together across differences. We have discerned together to attempt something that is countercultural: to seek reconciliation and to continue to be reshaped as the people of God across cultural boundaries. May God strengthen us as we continue to live the good work that Christ has begun and promised to sustain in us until the fullness of salvation.