Christ’s call, God’s love encountered amid diversity of opinions, ages

July 6 worship at MennoCon23 in Kansas City, Mo. - Mennonite Church USA July 6 worship at MennoCon23 in Kansas City, Mo. – Mennonite Church USA

Speakers at MennoCon23 worship services July 6 suggested God’s love can be encountered in seemingly awkward relationships that often overlap: those that involve different generations and different opinions.

Such transformational relationships can also be a significant source of hope for the church’s future.

Worship panel at MennoCon23 day 4. - Mennonite Church USA
Worship panel at MennoCon23 day 4. – Mennonite Church USA

Spanning birth years from 1957 to 2005, a morning worship panel at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City, Mo., shared about where each person has seen the church at its best, how it has changed, and their hopes for what comes next.

Sharing experiences, not just in her youth group, but also across generations, has been important for Kylee Weaver, the youngest member of the panel, from the demographic group known as Gen Z. She especially appreciates when sharing time during worship is authentic at her congregation, Berlin Mennonite Church in Ohio.

At the other end of the spectrum, Bishop Leslie Francisco recently retired from pastoral leadership at C3 Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Va. A baby boomer celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary this month, he said the church is at its best when it comes together — like at convention.

“Working with other generations has been a blessing. But for me as an elder, I had to reflect back on how when I was younger I challenged those elders,” Francisco recalled. “But it has been such a joy and blessing to see how God has been at work in his people to make the church a body that is vibrant and can thrive.”

Amanda Nelson Stoltzfus, associate pastor of youth ministries at Community Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa., addressed teens directly, encouraging them to live into ownership of their communities of faith without making compromises.

“I don’t want you to feel like you’re responsible for cleaning up after us, OK? That’s not your role,” she said. “Each and every one of you was created to be exactly who you are. Your journey will be exactly what it will be. And you will make the church out of the beautiful individuals who you are. 

“I am speaking for all the adults to say we trust you with this church.”

Stoltzfus grieved brokenness that has taken place in the church, hoping the future can hold reconciliation.

“I really hope we find a way to stay in community with each other in such a divisive time,” she said. “To have churches in the midst of the fray and hating each other, that blows. It really does. So I just want us to figure out how to love each other, hold ourselves accountable and just not quit.”

Eric Massanari, conference minister of Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference, views the church’s future similarly, based on his formative experiences that give him hope. 

He was 5 years old 50 years ago at Lombard Mennonite Church when Illinois Mennonite Conference ordained Emma Richards, the first woman to be ordained for pastoral ministry in the Mennonite Church.

“I was formed by women in ministry from that age on,” Massanari said. “Since then, I have seen an expansive opening of doors to ministry for people in different racial/ethnic groups, the LGBTQ community. I am just amazed.

“On one hand, it has taken a long time in our leadership structures, but I’m really grateful and hopeful for that change.”

His prayer is for the church to stay centered on the love of Christ, who called disciples to come and see. It was and is an ongoing invitation to continually dig deeper in relationships.

“I hope our discipleship is even more rooted in this understanding that in one another we meet a child of God. Period,” he said. “Not just in the church, but when we walk down the street, we meet a child of God, and that’s a starting point, and I hope we can be a light in the world.”

In the evening worship service, MC USA moderator-elect Jon Carlson advocated a similar approach to relationships, noting God’s invitation is to experience transformation alongside the world, not cutting ourselves out or away from it.

Jon Carlson- Mennonite Church USA
Jon Carlson —  Mennonite Church USA

Carlson, lead pastor of Forest Hills Mennonite Church in Leola, Pa., warned against grasping tightly anything we feel is clear or certain, because it can lead to an “us against the world” mentality.

When this happens, “the only people allowed to be part of this us-against-the-world community is who sees the same as us,” he said. “Because if they don’t, they are part of the world — the thing we fight against. …

“I think this can be very strong in our Mennonite tradition, because historically we were right about so many things. Infant baptism, separation of church and state, separation from the world, we’re right about our pursuit of justice. …

“And all the way along we have cut and cut and cut, and today it seems like we continue in our rightness and our confidence in our rightness, and the way we function in the world is as an us-against-the-world community.”

But where does that leave room for forming relationships with those who might be different?

“God is working to restore all that has been broken,” Carlson said. “God is restoring us as well.”

Highlighting a favorite section of the Bible among Anabaptists, Carlson looked to the Sermon on the Mount, in which the sun rises on those who are evil and those who are good as part of a call to be “perfect” like the heavenly father.

“This perfection is not actually separation from people we think are wrong,” he said, suggesting Jesus warns his followers not to define others primarily by their wrongness. “This perfection is right relationships with people who are currently wrong. …

“I’ve been part of the Mennonite church for 20 years, and I have caught glimpses of this from time to time: genuine humility of people coming together to seek truth together. But far more often we have done the opposite. We hear something we disagree with — especially if it’s something we used to believe but no longer believe — and we focus on differences.”

At the close of evening worship, MC USA executive director Glen Guyton announced “Follow Jesus” is the theme for the denomination’s next biennium, before leading the crowd by singing a closing rendition of “Freedom (I Wanna Clap a Little Louder).”

“Let us not be afraid to do the hard work,” Guyton said. “We’ve experienced what it means to be transformed, what it takes to struggle together, to work together, to reflect on what God has in store for us. And let us commit together as this family, as this body of Christ, to lay anything down that will distract us, that will keep us from what God has for us, and let us follow Jesus.”

Morning worship concluded with communion and included an offering to support the Creation Care Fund of Mennonite Creation Care Network. 

MC USA recently incorporated creation care into its peace and justice work. Donations will help fund a part-time denominational climate justice coordinator, support resources on environmental issues and bolster collaboration among Anabaptists in the U.S. and Canada working on climate justice.

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. He worked at Mennonite World Review since 2011. A graduate of Tabor College, Read More

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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