MILWAUKEE — Sunlight streamed through stained glass windows as participants gathered at Milwaukee Mennonite Church for the annual meeting of Mennonite Church USA’s Central District Conference June 20-22.
The theme, “Come Walk With Us . . . to God Knows Where,” echoed through the days in songs, stories and sermons.
Doug Luginbill, conference minister, noted that the theme can have different emphases.
It can be a confession of faith: “to God knows where.” It can express a mystery, asking: Where is God leading? Or it can be admitting that we don’t know where God is leading, but we follow in trust.
For example, recent conversations with representatives of SEMILLA, the Anabaptist Latin American seminary in Guatemala City, have begun exploring how Central District and SEMILLA might develop a relationship that is mutually helpful.
We don’t know what that might look like, Luginbill said, “but we want to walk this journey and discover together where it might be leading us.”
Delegate sessions offered time for further discussion about a relationship with SEMILLA.
Delegates voted unanimously to welcome three congregations to the conference: Americus (Ga.) Mennonite Fellowship; Jubilee Mennonite Church, Bellefontaine, Ohio; and Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Gainesville, Fla.
Worship began with a story of deep grief and ended in discovering profound joy.
Anton Flores-Maisonet, cofounder of Casa Alterna and an associate member of Americus Mennonite Fellowship, shared how his family and an immigrant family lived in community for 14 years. The death of his son by suicide came at the same time as the mother of the other family died from a long-term illness.
Flores-Maisonet reminded worshipers that Jesus, when he came to the well in Samaria, sat down to rest, and in vulnerability asked a Samaritan woman for a drink. Flores-Maisonet and his family, as they grieved, moved to a neighborhood of “people who live in constant fear,” he said.
“That’s where I have found life — by coming into this neighborhood where my deepest wound was exposed to the world. There, out of my vulnerability, I have found welcome. . . . They welcomed me in ways they longed to be welcomed.”
He added: “Vulnerability is a gift of God. It can be sacramental. It can build a compassionate and empathic community. It can reconcile us to ourselves, to one another and to God.”
Transformed by joy
Alison Brookins, pastor of Chicago Community Mennonite Church, focused on the story of Zacchaeus, who simply wanted to see Jesus but ended up being transformed by joy.
“To believe in the gospel and turn your life toward the neighbor and stranger is to live in the deepest and most profound joy,” Brookins said. “Pursuing joy is an act of resistance against all that tells us we are not worth the breath that keeps us alive.
“The gospel is to be oriented toward joy at all times, oriented toward the knowledge deep in your stomach that you are loved.”
The work of the gospel is serious work, she acknowledged, but that is why we need joy to sneak in and transform us.
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