by Sara Wenger Shenk, VMC Moderator
The cooling temperatures and golden, red leaves herald that change is in the air. As much as we might want to hold onto summer—or any season for that matter— we must let go of long, warm, greenly glorious days to stay in sync with what God has in store for us. Thankfully, we can carry the fruits and memories of summer with us even as we embrace the distinctly colorful gifts of fall—a season that I love. Continuity and change.
Like seasons, the church is always changing. We’re emerging from the pandemic different than we were before. Many of us are weary and weighed down—and yet resilient in ways we didn’t know we were capable of. We’re learning to weather leadership transitions. We’re asking with renewed intensity who we want to be as a family of congregations who call ourselves Virginia Mennonite Conference. We worry about whether we can hold together the rich diversity of this unique family as we honestly wrestle with differences that make life together challenging. We wonder about how we might better tap into what creates the most vitality, joy and shared mission among us.
In the coming months, we will engage in a patient, conference-wide listening and learning process guided by seasoned, wise facilitators from Gilliam & Associates, Craig Gilliam and Betty Johnson. VMC has experienced a leadership crisis and there are also significant levels of stress and polarization in congregations across the conference. Conference leaders believe these challenges present an opportunity for us to seek to better understand what is working and what is not working well in the conference—and how we could together do better.
Working with the Gilliam facilitators will be a VMC-based liaison team made up of 14 mature leaders from across the conference who have an ear, heart and voice for the good of the conference.* This liaison group will help to design the listening/learning process, which is intended to gather perspectives from many leaders and representatives across the conference to talk about what is and isn’t working well. After listening carefully, the Gilliam facilitators will mirror back to us what they see and hear—rather like our family doctor at an annual physical. This is scheduled to happen at our February 4 winter assembly. We will then have decisions to make, to decide what we might do to become healthier as a body—and how, in this new season, we might more wholeheartedly minister healing and hope in our desperately needy world.
We are beginning to see renewed energy in the conference as our new interim Conference Leadership Team (iCLT) steps up to provide accompaniment for district leaders and pastors—along with vision that inspires us to grow into this new season of life together. Thanks be to God.
*Persons who’ve agreed to serve on the VMC liaison team, listed alphabetically: Andrew Fairfield, Caleb Schrock-Hurst, Chuck Hostetter, Clair Good, David Brubaker, Howard Miller, Jim Hershberger (as link to Hispanic leaders), June Miller, Leslie Francisco, Maren Hange, MaryBeth Moore, Matthew Bucher, Sara Wenger Shenk, Vivian Stevens-Lyons