For the second convention in a row, Mennonite Church USA executive director Glen Guyton sang his own unique version of a classic rock song to bring his message home at the final worship service.
This year it was “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Guyton turned it into “Free Dove,” with lyrics about the denomination’s emphasis for the next two years: transformation.
“When we leave here today, church, will you still remember me?” Guyton sang, backed by the worship band. “But if I stay here with you, church, things just couldn’t be the same. ’Cause I’m free as a dove now. And this dove, it must change.”
As the song ended, Guyton donned a white cape decorated with strings of lights and ran across the stage.
Guyton’s message concluded the MC USA convention, held July 6-10 at Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati, with the theme, “Bring the Peace!”
“To bring the peace, to survive, to answer the call of God, we have to change,” Guyton said. “We must reject our fear, our sinful nature, worldly disputes, false purity. We must give control to God.”
Guyton offered a response to those who lament change in the church: “Don’t be upset that the church has changed. Be happy that the church has endured, even though it may look different, because we are connected to the Source.”
He said he hears many different voices across the denomination. Some liked the good old days and wonder if their voices matter anymore. Another is crying, “well I guess I have to be white and Swiss German in order to matter; why did you invite us here if you didn’t really want us?” Another says, “Why can’t we all get along?”
His message for all of them, he said, is in the words of a song he sang at the beginning of his message: “Jesus is enough.”
Guyton offered explanations for MC USA’s membership decline in its nearly 20-year history after the merger of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church.
“I believe our denomination is contracting for two reasons,” he said. “First is poor leadership. We have designed leadership systems that don’t fit who we are theologically. Bureaucracy is a deadly thing. We have too many managers and seat-fillers where we need leaders with vision, compassion and roof-ripping faith.”
He was referring to a story in Mark 2 where friends brought a disabled man to Jesus by lowering him through a hole in a roof.
“We all need friends who are willing to tear some stuff up in order to get closer to God,” he said.
The second reason for contraction, he said, is that we want to control transformation, when actually God is in control.
“We’ve had some struggles since we came together as a denomination in 2001,” Guyton said. “We have numerous polarizations. We have various traditions . . . not to mention all the geographic and racial diversity.
“But the early Mennonites were so passionate and so devoted to their faith that they shared this great Anabaptist theology with us BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] folks and many others.
“Who would have thought that if you took this rich Anabaptist tradition from the rural parts of our country to the urban centers, to the barrios, that it wouldn’t begin to change? It would transform in ways that imitated the gifts and communities that adopted this new message.”
Guyton said the church’s true power is to be the symbol of hope, restoration and community.
“We spend way too much time worrying about what we are losing rather than focusing on how we can grow and what we have to offer as the body of Christ,” he said.