Pull over, and let’s ask some questions

Sheldon Good, Salford
sheldoncg@goshen.edu

I love traveling. I love the questions that emerge while traveling. Coming off of a three month cross-cultural in Cambodia, I am used to being on the move. Remembering back to my work with Franconia Conference last summer, the times I was able to travel provided me with my fondest, most poignant memories. I acknowledge it: I am part of the dynamic of “Generation Y.”

On the first Friday morning of June, Steve Kriss and Jessica Walter picked up a tan rental minivan across from the Conference Center in Souderton. For the next 34 hours, they would drive me and three other young adults – Felicia Moore, Krista Ehst, and Ale Lopez – on Interstates 80 and 94 on our way to Minneapolis. From the moment we began piling our luggage – and the six of us – in the minivan, until we arrived back on Thursday evening, we were haunted with questions.

It didn’t take long. As we cruised the Northeast Extension, the cell phones came out. “We’re driving to Minneapolis. Yes, we’re driving,” “We’re going to hang out with a church that’s Mennoniting,” “No, I don’t know where we’re sleeping,” “Yes, there are six of us in a minivan,” “I’m not really sure when we’ll be back,” “Actually, I just met half of these people.” We all struggled to answer questions about “what are you doing?” After layovers at Quaker Steak & Lube, Cici’s Pizza, the Goshen Co-op Market, The Electric Brew, and a cheese shop in Wisconsin, we arrived in the twin cities at 7:00 pm, Saturday evening. Our group probably overwhelmed Mark and Amy Van Steenwyck when we stormed unabashedly giddy, having traveled for two straight days.

Mark is the leader of Missio Dei (Latin for “God’s mission”) – a church plant that is joining Mennonite Church USA and has connected with Franconia Conference through Emergent Village connections. The Saturday night of our arrival marked the second gathering of Mark’s “Christarchy” fellowship.

As the six of us Pennsylvanians and eight Minnesotans lounged on couches in the Van Steenwyck’s living room, we continued our theme of questions at Mark’s “Christarchy” gathering, which is a discussion that strives to mesh Christianity and anarchism. Mark asked the group, “What are the abandoned places and who are the abandoned people in your neighborhood?” and “what’s keeping you from ministering to them?”

An area college student expressed her struggle between a call to minister to the homeless and her mother’s nervousness for her safety; a 30-something man, wearing clothes he designed himself told of his struggles as a youth pastor in an affluent community; Steve admitted he doesn’t know how to reach out to his diverse community in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy neighborhood; meanwhile, a woman from Peru held a side conversation with Ale in Spanish.

The discussion lasted two hours and culminated in a barrage of snacks; among them was our gift of a Mrs. Benner’s funny cake from Landis’ Supermarket in Telford, PA.

Missio Dei worships publicly on Sunday evenings in the basement of a coffee shop on the West Bank of Minneapolis. We attended the first gathering of these 18 diverse persons – a third of which included our group – in their new space where the walls still hold posters from the days when it was a movie rental outlet.

The worship of this eclectic group of people is informal. There is singing. There are questions. People walk around. We were clearly worshipping together, as the role of “worship leader” was shared around the circle. Afterwards, a guy told Steve about how he’d given up on church but now finds hope within this setting, within Anabaptist values. One woman even mentioned that she felt safe in this space even though her family had experienced abuse within the church.

midwesttop.jpg

On Tuesday morning we said farewell to our newfound friends and set off through the corn fields of Iowa. The Beatles, Linkin Park and Jay- Z, salsa music, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, marked our venture through the high plains as we ended up in Des Moines. Our primary task here was to visit Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) student and Ministry Inquiry Program (MIP) participant John Tyson from the Souderton congregation who is interning at Christ Community Church, which recently joined Central Plains Mennonite Conference.

Before visiting, John had warned me, “These guys are different,” referring to the church’s three pastors. It didn’t take long to live up to this statement, as we had the privilege of meeting up with John and pastors Kent McDougal and Mike Gulker at their favorite coffee shop, which doubles as a bar. As U2 tunes blasted and nearby college students acted like stereotypical college students, the discussion around our table started rolling, questions were asked, and if you didn’t bring your “A Game,” you were left struggling to keep up. The conversation was intense.

Steve, John, and I stayed up until about 3:00 am that night discussing the summer’s challenges. “I think I have already read about 3,000 pages since being here [two weeks],” he said. John isn’t only participating in the Ministry Inquiry Program to learn how to read more effectively. He is partially, maybe mostly, learning how to lead a congregation more effectively. “I’m learning what it means and how important it is to have a liturgy, how to be a worship leader without a lectern.”

John’s learning to intelligently discuss academic theology with Mike, his supervisor, who graduated from Duke University. He says, “Mike told me to ask him, ‘what the heck are you guys talking about?’ whenever I want.” John, I feel like I don’t ask that question enough, especially at church.

After we made sure to visit a coffee shop the next morning – we had done that in every city so far – we headed east on Interstate 80 for Goshen, IN to visit Jordan Good, a member of the Bally congregation, and like John, a sophomore at EMU and MIP participant at Walnut Hill Mennonite Church. The only time our theme of questions didn’t blatantly arise during trip was when we met with Jordan and his supervising pastor, Jane Buller, in the couch-clad youth room at Walnut Hill. Our conversation varied from women in leadership to issues with roadside church signs. “No one from the community is going to come if they don’t know when our worship service is,” she said.

I quickly chimed in about how Salford (my home congregation) recently had to take their sign down on Route 113; Jordan recalled that Bally bought our sign from Salford but hasn’t installed it; Ale mentioned how Philadelphia Praise Center just got a new sign but had gone without one for months; and Steve, Felicia, Krista, and Jessica all agreed that their home congregations had sign issues. Eight people, eight churches, eight sign problems. It was an issue worth noting.

As we left north Goshen in search of Das Dutchman Essenhaus (an Amish-style restaurant), I unearthed the metaphor – back to our theme of questions – this poses for the Mennonite Church: What holds us back from telling people who we are and what we’re about? What prevents us from descriptively identifying ourselves in what seems to be such a simple, trivial matter? Maybe there is some centripetal force that is keeping something in, something that longs to be released. Remembering the beginning of our trip when none of us could describe who we were or what we were doing, maybe we should have put a sign on our van: An entourage on the move. Pull over, and let’s ask some questions.

midwestbottom.jpg

1 thought on “Pull over, and let’s ask some questions

  1. “What holds us back from telling people who we are and what we’re about? What prevents us from descriptively identifying ourselves in what seems to be such a simple, trivial matter?”

    I can identify with the sentiments, but on the surface the answer would seem to be more in line with who were are supposed to be telling people about. I don’t mean this snidely, but it’s not about us. Jesus pointed this out in Matthew’s gospel where he says “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

    So, my guess is that whatever we are doing should be focused on the father and not just about how to get the publicity for our church, group, organization (ourselves?), and the rest will flow out of that.

    Having said all that, it is an interesting post.

Comments are closed.