This article was originally published by The Mennonite

My hopes for Mennonite Church USA in 2017

In this new year, I hope that we can learn to live with the tensions and symmetry of membership guidelines and forbearance graces. We are sailing through difficult times in congregations, in conferences, and even occasionally in our own biological families. There are deep and fundamental differences that we face, and they are not small.

There must be a way to navigate the ship of this denomination by holding what appear to be opposites together. We need to find a way to affirm Membership Guidelines and allow for differences among us. This will take effort, resilience, and wisdom.

I do not pretend to have answers to the conflicts we face, but I believe we need to take incremental steps in proactive ways. Taking small steps in a direction that nurtures unity across our differences may be a way forward. It will take courage on the part of our leaders to find the measured steps that will help us build unity while remaining faithful to Scripture.

I look forward to attending the Orlando Mennonite Church USA Convention this coming summer. I won’t be a delegate or have any particular role, but family members will travel with my wife and I to Florida just to be a part of the event. Even in our van coming to the convention, there will be significant differences of belief and thought.

These are the times we live in, but I believe it is best to manage the future proactively rather than simply react against the forces of change that face us each day.

A glimmer of hope for the denomination has come my way in recent months as I’ve pondered the meaningful ways Latino Mennonites have come into my church world. In the Northern District of Virginia Conference, where I’ve participated for years, we have one Latino church and another emerging Hispanic church plant. The pastors of these congregations have a vigor for evangelism and for inviting others to Christ that gives me great hope for the future of our church.

Furthermore, in recent years several Latino Mennonite families have moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to help plant churches and further their education. Children of these families have attended the school where I work, and I have been greatly enriched, encouraged and ministered to by them. I could give many examples of the way these vibrant and spiritually alive Latino youth have given me hope for the future. After Mennonite World Conference 2015, for instance, when I attempted to lead a Spanish song in chapel that I learned at World Conference, two Honduran Mennonite girls offered to sing the Spanish lyrics while I stepped backed from the microphone, played my guitar and shed a tear of joy.

Finally, I have been reading Latino Mennonites, a book by Felipe Hinojosa, John Hopkins Press, 2014. While I have read parts of the Mennonite World Conference history book series, written by Mennonites from the global south, Hinojosa is the first North American Non-Germanic scholar I have read who is interpreting the Mennonite story in the United States. I am being given a new perspective through this outstanding monograph by a vibrant and young Mennonite Latino historian from Texas. Reading Hinojosa gives me hope in that scholars from new traditions and ethnicities are beginning to interpret the Mennonite story in fresh and creative ways. I highly recommend Hinojosa’s book for anyone who wants a new perspective on twentieth century North American Mennonites.

With incremental changes in the way we run our congregations, conferences, and denomination, and the bright Spirit’s visitation I have experienced from Latino Mennonites recently, I am hopeful for Mennonite Church USA in 2017.

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