Journey Forward brings new beginnings
by Jon Trotter
Virginia Mennonite Conference is where it all began for me in 1993. At least it is where my journey began in the Mennonite church.
I am appreciative to the men and women of this great conference who welcomed me and introduced me to the Anabaptist faith. Now it is my turn to give back to this church and its many parts.
By design, our conference and congregational leaders have great authority in our system. I would have to think that there was some institutional wisdom in ensuring that we had strong conferences and congregations who would work in collaborative harmony rather than needing a Mennonite pope. That strength can also be a source of weakness when the harmony is not there.
Glen Guyton speaks at Virginia Mennonite Conference Assembly at C3 Hampton (Calvary Commity Church) on July 20, 2018. His message, We Have Seen the Lord, during evening worship emphasized the transformative faith we carry as individuals and as the church. “First and foremost, we are a people of faith,” he said. Photo: Jon Trotter
Part of the rationale for the Journey Forward process is to recapture who we are so we can once again focus on our mission, our calling as a denomination. Journey Forward is a churchwide renewal process of engaging in scripture, storytelling, and sharing how God is at work in the lives of people and congregations across MC USA.
Somewhere along the line between July 2001 and today, the Mennonite Church became synonymous with the Executive Board and to a lesser degree the Executive Director. One might say our church has become so upside down that we have forgotten our place in this body that was created to allow its members to participate fully in God’s work of setting things right in a broken world, redeeming and restoring all things in Christ to God’s intended design. A design, I surmise, that involves three forever things: “faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
While the Executive Board has a leadership role regarding vision and advocacy for smaller conferences, one of the primary functions of the Executive Board is to coordinate the activities of our agencies, partners, and programs. The strength of the Executive Board lies in its power to convene the body, not in its power to punish. Those that want the Executive Board and Executive Director to wield the hammer of wrath are asking us to use a tool not granted to us. But we do have work to do regarding strengthening our mutual accountability as a denominational body.
Slowly, maybe too slowly for some, I do see positive energy building with many of our conference leaders, energy in helping to articulate more clearly how power and authority work in our system. Our system is complex. Probably too complex for our size and our mission. That is why I like the simplicity of our renewed commitments that we developed after the 2017 MC USA convention in Orlando.
On this journey together we commit to:
1. Follow Jesus: As an Anabaptist community of the Living Word, we listen for God’s call as we read Scripture together, guided by the Spirit. Through baptism, we commit ourselves to live faithfully as Jesus’ disciples, no matter the cost.
2. Witness to God’s peace: We are called to extend God’s holistic peace, proclaiming Christ’s redemption for the world with our lives. Through Christ, God frees the world from sin and offers reconciliation. We bear witness to this gift of peace by rejecting violence and resisting injustice in all forms and in all places.
3. Experience transformation: The Holy Spirit dwells in and among us, transforming us to reflect God’s love. Through worship, the Spirit gathers the body of Christ, where our diversity reveals God’s beauty. The Spirit empowers our communities to embody the grace, joy, and peace of the gospel.
With the power and authority granted to me in this role as the primary administrative officer, I want to make sure that our policies, procedures, and programs line up with who we say we are and where we say God is calling us.
That is going to take some work, but it is not my work alone. We must accept the power and authority granted to us in the system. Whether we are a conference, committee, congregation, delegate, agency or individual, we are Mennonite Church USA, and there are very specific things that we can and do control within our system.
Part of the problem occurs when we think we can control the actions of others or we think that our actions don’t affect the whole. In a community, we must find ways to walk together. That means some of us will need to speed up our pace, others will have to slow down, and all us should be a little uncomfortable. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do great things together as Mennonite Church USA.