As I discerned the call to become executive director of The Mennonite, Inc., I came across a paper I wrote for my senior seminar course at Goshen (Ind.) College. In April 2009, I wrote: “The Mennonite is connecting people through personal storytelling and thus helping shape the identity of Mennonite Church USA for the future.”
That The Mennonite connects and shapes us is still important.
Connecting people through storytelling: When we have the space and security necessary to tell our stories, we allow others to connect with us, a spark toward building community. I want everyone who reads The Mennonite to know I am committed to helping cultivate an environment where all voices in Mennonite Church USA can share their stories. I want The Mennonite to be by and for all of us. We’re not there yet.
Shaping the identity of Mennonite Church USA: I have cut off the last part of my writing from 2008, “for the future.” I am confident the stories, perspectives and artwork in these pages not only contribute to shaping the future of the church but the church right now. When we wrestle with words and images, we open ourselves to God’s transformative power, to the possibility that healing and hope might flow through us.
I also need The Mennonite to connect and shape me.
I am a 31-year-old, white, upper-middle class male, citizen of a global superpower. For much of my life I’ve been blind—and too often still am blind—to the ways I benefit from privilege. I’ve been ignorant of the ways other people have been oppressed because of the systems and structures I benefit from, including The Mennonite.
As a leader with privilege, I commit to active listening. This includes paying attention to the storyteller, asking open-ended questions, accepting experience as truth. This is not to say I don’t have a story to tell. But I’m increasingly convinced that God’s justice and peace can more fully come on earth as in heaven through active listening just as much as storytelling.
The first issue of Gospel Herald in 1908 included this vision: “Long may [Gospel Herald] live as a witness of the truth, a defender of the faith, a servant of the church and a messenger of goodwill to all people.” May we hold onto that vision as we seek to provide a forum for all voices within Mennonite Church USA.
Sheldon C. Good is executive director of The Mennonite, Inc.