Summer 2015 will be remembered for the gatherings of the body of Christ within our Anabaptist-Mennonite faith family. In mid-June Virginia Mennonite Conference held their annual Assembly on the theme “Built into a Spiritual House” (1 Peter 2) at Harrisonburg Mennonite Church.
The first week of July, Mennonite Church USA held their biennial Convention in Kansas City, Mo., with the theme “On the Way” (Luke 24). Mennonite World Conference met in Harrisburg, Pa., at the end of July with the theme “Walking with God.” The opening worship service focused on Luke 24.
These gatherings of Jesus followers are formative activities of the body of Christ, informed by scripture, guided by the Spirit, and embraced with fellowship.
Each one of us will have particular memories, stories, and renewed friendships that contribute to our being present and shaped some way by the experiences.
The experience that I will always remember coming out of MC USA Kansas City is the Thursday delegate sessions where many of us were uncertain of the outcomes associated with the key resolutions on “Forbearance” and “Membership.”
While there were various events that occurred on this day, the formative experience was at the delegate table. At each table a leader guided participants in a conversation about their hopes and concerns around each resolution.
I observed the tenderness of the participants as individuals expressed sadness and teary moments as stories were told of pain and anguish associated with needing to make a decision that holds implications for their congregation and them. I observed openness to hear and be heard as people of sincere faith disclose their convictions.
I will note that, for me, the Spirit of God was present in distinctive ways that contributed to my own sense of peace about the outcomes.
Today as a leader seeking to discover how to live with integrity within the resolutions approved by the delegates of MC USA, I am learning about the way in which forbearance might be applied to individuals and congregations.
As we cautiously walk this pathway together, I am reminded that others have traveled similar paths in other generations through such issues as divorce and remarriage, women in ministry, and military participation and church membership. I am not walking this pathway alone.
In Virginia Mennonite Conference, the Conference Council (governing body) and the Faith and Life Commission (oversight leaders) will review the two key resolutions “On the Status of Membership Guidelines” and “Forbearance in the Midst of Difference.” It is my desire that each of these groups lay the foundation for the way in which we begin to navigate our future while living within the spirit of these two resolutions.
As the Executive Conference Minister, it is my desire to contribute to the overall health of Virginia Mennonite Conference and Mennonite Church USA. We live in a time of turbulence even as we give witness to our commitments and engage in possibilities. I value the statements that the MC USA and/or VMC have passed as their statements of belief.
It is with this in mind that I restate to you my commitment to the Confession of Faith in Mennonite a Perspective as the teaching position of MC USA, and subsequently Virginia Mennonite Conference, as well as my own personal comfort with the framework stated in it.
As we continue to navigate the challenges of same-gender attraction, relationships, and/or lifestyle issues, I want to remain a clear voice that upholds what we together have determined to be true.
In this sense, my advocacy remains for the health of the group which occurs best in face to face conversation with others, where the teaching position is acknowledged and not undermined. This contemporary challenge allows for us to engage in possibility, but with the knowledge that the body of Christ has not determined a new way on this matter.
As the Spirit of Christ guides us in these uncertain times, may we be driven to show love to all God’s people regardless of our differences.