In the Fall 2017 issue of Pathways, Executive Conference Minister Clyde G. Kratz made the case for sabbaticals for pastors, including his particular three-month sabbatical at the end of the year. During these months, I have accepted the assignment to fill in for him on a part-time basis, to connect some of the dots which he cares for on a long term basis. And I am discovering more dots than I had occasion to think about before.
I am seeing in a new way the many pieces of VMC: Most visible are Congregations and Districts. Then there is the Congregational Life Commission, embracing the recent women’s retreat in Natural Bridge VA, exploring new events and resources for youth, possibly also for a men’s retreat. The Faith and Life Commission and its credentials sub-committee deal with certifying ministers and discerning faith issues. The conference has a mutually supportive relationship with Virginia Mennonite Missions. And during the past year a Polity Task Force has been exploring how all the dots may be better connected.
And there’s the rub! The 68 congregations, and eight districts, and 7,000 members see the church in a variety of hues and colors. Understandings admired by some facets don’t seem to sparkle in other facets. Priorities esteemed in some places collide with values elevated in others. As one step toward enhanced togetherness, we anticipate adoption of a new conference mission statement in the February Delegate Assembly, proposed as follows:
Virginia Mennonite Conference equips pastors, lay leaders, and congregants for worship, service, and bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to neighbors near and far.
I trust we can all embrace that mission enthusiastically. But inevitably we see such a mission with different eyes. As one wise person said, “what we see depends on where we are standing.” Probably even more “from where we are standing.” Since the beginning of time, it seems, people haven’t been seeing everything alike, including the sacred writings, the almighty God, the people of God, and how faithful people should live.
We do have resources: The Ten Commandments help; the Beatitudes help; our Lord’s prayer (John 17:23) that future believers would be brought to complete unity helps, knowing that God loves them (us) just as God loves his son. In the previous chapter, Jesus promises his disciples (including us) that the Spirit of Truth will guide us into all truth (John 16:12).
Undoubtedly, that includes factual truth. Even more, I believe Jesus is pointing to the larger truth that we are united into God’s family, sisters and brothers of our Lord. It is the unifying truth of the spirit, even though we live in different nations, in different regions, in different states, in different districts, in different congregations, in different family systems, with different understandings of factual truth.
As human beings, we inevitably disagree about many details because we see them from different vantage points. But the Holy Spirit holds believers together, not because we see all the dots from the same vantage point, but because we breathe the same Spirit. May it be so!