Elroy Miller

Reconfiguring the Conference structure

January 29, 2018
by Jon Trotter

Early on in my social work career, I was introduced to the notion of self-care and rest.

Growing up as I did on a dairy farm, I was mostly indifferent to its meaning. Getting up early to do farm chores—whether I was tired or not—was not optional. We (my dad, my brothers and I) just did it; the cows had to be milked and the hay baled.

It wasn’t until mid-life when I experienced considerable burnout and “helping fatigue” that the notion of rest and self-care forced itself into my awareness. I was exhausted trying to care for my family and others.

At the time, my pastor at Toledo Mennonite Church introduced me to Morton T. Kelsey’s book The Other Side of Silence: A Guide to Christian Meditation (1976). Kelsy writes “The soul must be prodded from within by human need to grow and mature,” p 31.

I soon discovered my limits for listening and caring. It took some counseling at the time to help me get my emotional and spiritual feet under me again, to find balance between caring and self-care.

I discovered that I was not responsible as much to fix others as I was challenged to live into God’s love for spiritual nourishment, and then to live out of God’s love to listen and care as Jesus instructed in Matthew 22:39: Love your neighbor as yourself.

As we all know, this is not easy or a one-time learning experience. It goes on. I have been blessed to have had and continue to have regular conversation with a spiritual director, my pastor, and others. It has made all the difference in my faith-walk zigzag over the past 30 years.

In the spirit of personal and spiritual self-care, I also believe church organizations need at times to step back and reconfigure what it means to remain centered in God’s mission and to determine how the organization’s structure helps or does not help us in that effort.

Virginia Mennonite Conference is currently doing that through the work and recommendations of the Polity Task Force. I believe Acts 15 can instruct us as we find our way. It’s about church delegates and church leaders who love God and the church coming together and discerning how, in our situation, the church might best be structured to respond to current challenges. It’s about reflecting on the theology of our church structure (ecclesiology) and to understand why we do what we do as an organization (organizational culture). It’s about how we can better use our gifts and resources to serve God’s church as a conference.

To that end, Conference Council is committed to reconfiguring its organizational structure to help us engage our proposed mission statement: Virginia Mennonite Conference equips pastor, lay leaders, and congregants for worship, service and bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to neighbors near and far.

This mission statement was approved by Conference Council at its meeting on September 22-23, 2017. It is coming to the Winter Delegate Session for approval in January. Please participate in this conversation and keep our discernment efforts in your prayers.

(For a copy of the Polity Task Force report and recommendations, contact your church delegate.)

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