There are many “Robert Kreider stories” across our denomination. One of my favorites involves a meeting where people were attempting to develop a mission statement. We were having some difficulty and asked Dr. Kreider, an author, historian and a former president of Bluffton (Ohio) University, to comment on the draft. To my delight, instead of offering a rewrite, Dr. Kreider noted that the statement “does not sing—it needs more effervescence.”
He was correct. The statement did not sing. I was struck that a true elder of the church would use a word like “effervescence” to describe how we (a younger group) should be thinking about the future. It’s a feeling, a moment and a word that has remained close to the surface of my psyche.
The term “effervescence” has multiple meanings, yet you get the picture. It’s that wonderful moment when soda is opened and the aromatic flavor jumps out in dancing bubbles. You know you’re in for a delightful, satisfying experience.
During the past 30-plus years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve on many church and church-related boards. Each of the organizations served by those boards has been filled with people (both board and staff) committed to the church and its organizations. Sometimes the work has been demanding and frustrating and has required unexpected amounts of patience, humility and compromise.
However, no difficulty has outweighed the powerful visions, the enthusiasm for the work, the joy of serving and the difference those organizations make. The excitement for the work has been obvious, and the optimism of those involved has been contagious. These experiences have had effervescence; the exhilarating work and enthusiasm has bubbled and danced.
The Mennonite Church USA Executive Board, supported by Executive Leadership, has been considering how we as a denomination can make even more progress toward our inspiring vision of healing and hope (see “additional notes” below ).
In undertaking its work, the Executive Board and Executive Leadership have talked with people across the church and considered books, articles, surveys, studies and reports. Some of what we learned could lead to disturbing conclusions about our future as a denomination, and to be sure, we sometimes see and experience discouraging aspects of our current circumstances and culture.
But we are not pessimistic about the church’s future; rather we are filled with joy and hope. That joy and hope are not born of blind optimism. They are fueled from a recognition that God is in fact working in the world and that many parts of our church are recognizing God’s work and are joining in that work in a wonderful variety of energetic and enthusiastic ways.
Specifically, we see that optimism in:
- individual members of the church who speak with passion about their work within their congregations and their neighborhoods;
- growing Racial/Ethnic groups who have bountiful gifts to share with the church;
- vibrant rural and urban congregations who are both supporting their members and reaching out to others in varied ways;
- denominational agencies and programs working to address regional, national and global issues despite circumstances that in many instances would appear to be overwhelming.
The Executive Board and Executive Leadership have seen and experienced the fact that as a people and a denomination we already have a great deal of effervescence. We know that Mennonite Church USA is statistically insignificant, but we believe our participation in God’s work in the world is making a significant difference. Perhaps we should ignore the parts of our church that may have difficulty “singing” right now and perhaps we should simply accept the trends of denominational decline and increasing consumerism and nationalism.
Instead, the Executive Board and Executive Leadership believe we need to find even more effective ways to support, enhance and release the effervescence that is created by faith in Jesus and ingrained in our church. I strongly believe the world is waiting for the delightful, satisfying message of healing and hope that our faith allows us to share.
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