by Lisa Rand, Bally Mennonite Church
Last year, Mennonite Church USA surveyed credentialed leaders on a variety of issues and questions, covering demographics, conferences, the denomination, and the currently difficult issue of attitudes toward homosexuality and the status in the church of individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ). The research, led by Last year, Mennonite Church USA surveyed credentialed leaders on a variety of issues and questions … Conrad Kanagy of Elizabethtown College, offered a glimpse into the perspectives of leaders from coast to coast.
Franconia Conference contracted with Kanagy to provide additional analysis of his material for our conference community. On Saturday, March 14, Kanagy delved more deeply into the data with about three dozen conference pastors at Covenant Community Fellowship in Lansdale.
The morning’s work began with prayerful worship, with music led by Marilyn Bender (of Ripple Allentown) and Samantha Lioi (Whitehall congregation). John Bender, interim associate pastor at Franconia Mennonite Church, led a guiding reflection. He referred to Romans 14:3, where followers of Jesus are advised not to pass judgment on the servant of another: “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.” Bender asked leaders to consider what might result from a daily prayer for oneness, and a concerted effort to see each person as a sister or brother in Christ.
To begin his presentation, Conrad Kanagy invited leaders to consider the wisdom of Paul in Colossians 3:1-15, highlighting Paul’s emphasis on magnanimity, charity, and generosity in relationship with one another. These spiritual values were lifted up throughout the presentation.
“This morning is about understanding what has shaped our differences, the implications of those differences, and where we can go in the future,” said Kanagy. With frankness, he said he was “not even suggesting we can keep living together,” but asserting that we can be kind and gracious.
Leaders recognized this conversation as a beginning, an opening. Even while thanking Kanagy for his time and effort on data analysis, several leaders suggested it might be helpful to invite additional interpretations of the data.
“Surveys are imperfect,” Kanagy acknowledged, “but they bring us around the table together.”
Conference board member Jim Laverty expressed gratitude for Kanagy’s honesty about the cultural differences that separate us.
“He helped me to better appreciate the different worldviews represented in the survey results so that I might better appreciate just how profound these cultural differences are. I felt, overall, that the meeting drew together credentialed leaders from across the spectrum of worldviews and that as we met around round tables that we genuinely desired to listen and understand each other. I was grateful that at my table I could express my concern about how these differences will impact local congregations and how we choose to use or not use our power and influence as leaders to sway the opinion of others,” said Laverty.
Though no specific solutions were proposed, many leaders wondered about Conrad Kanagy’s questions: “What if the Holy Spirit is dismantling the church? What if the structures we have put in place are getting in the way? How can we work with the Holy Spirit?”
Despite the differences among conference leaders, there is critical common ground in the belief that God is active present is in our midst, even in the turmoil caused by feelings of disunity. As we move forward, Laverty suggested “that we equip and train our conference staff especially as they walk with churches who represent a diversity of perspectives. I would also suggest that despite our differences we explore ways to continue to collaborate on our call as a people to participate in God’s mission in the world.”