It’s been an interesting month. I attended both the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City, Mo., and the Mennonite World Conference global assembly in Harrisburg, Pa. As a member of a congregation that is not a part of MC USA or MWC, I was a guest in both settings.
The week in Kansas City had a lot of celebration of a Mennonite identity, and I found myself asking: Am I still a part of this celebration of being Mennonite? And I realized that I was. There are over 350,000 Mennonites in the United States, with an additional 350,000 Anabaptists from other groups. MC USA currently consists of just under 100,000. The celebration of what it means to be Mennonite belongs to all Mennonites, not just those who are officially a part of one denomination. I truly did belong, as I move forward in the broader Mennonite, Anabaptist movement as part of the Christian church.
In Harrisburg, I came face to face with this reality in an even bigger way. I met Anabaptist and Mennonite brothers and sisters from around the world. These informal connections helped convince me of the commonality we share.
In the worship sessions, the topics often contrasted with what my informal connections told me. In the worship sessions, I heard about doubt, unity amidst diversity, and prophetic challenge of the “other.” I felt deeply the irony of hearing this in the midst of hundreds, if not thousands of believers around the world who had experienced God’s miraculous power in their own lives. These were believers who were fervent in their faith and belief, who embraced mystery but saw doubt as something to be overcome, who had experienced great loss and persecution for the sake of the Gospel. Unfortunately, those stories were in the background, pushed to the margins to give greater space for the celebration of doubt, pleas for western ideas of unity, and critique.
But the bright spot from that week was a sermon on Thursday morning by Remilyn Mondez from the Philippines. She articulated a vision that moved me, a vision that deeply captures the center of what is happening with Evana, an evangelical Anabaptist network. We are already seeing the way that God is drawing together so many parts of the worldwide Anabaptist movement. Her vision is of a church that moves away from focus on our own needs, that is bold in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, that puts on the full armor of God to fight against the wiles of the devil. She wants to see a church that cultivates a relationship with Jesus Christ, that is faithful to scripture, that is truly unified because of a shared center in the full gospel of Jesus Christ. She has a vision of a church that does not focus on splitting and fighting other believers, but lives into the real challenge of fighting the principalities and powers in our midst. I invite you to listen to her share this vision at the following link:
At Evana, we truly are about this movement that Mondez described. We are not about division and harsh attacks on those who disagree. We love the church, the whole church. We are excited about moving together in a broader way with other Anabaptist traditions and with new Anabaptists. We are committed to charitable engagement, to avoid unnecessarily drawing lines. We are about movement, and recognize that sometimes making space to move forward means leaving behind other connections. We pray with Lancaster Mennonite Conference and other conferences and congregations as they determine how to move forward into a stronger engagement with their mission. We pray that all of these decisions can be bathed with prayer, charitable conversations, and an openness to God’s calling.
Unity can sometimes mean engaging in new ways with new partners who share the same clarity in their mission and call. It does not have to be combative and mean spirited. It does not have to brood in anger or use the language of shame and control. It does not have to accuse others of failing to live into their calling. It does not have to lead with moral indignation. Unity can happen when we simply start to move into mission together. For some, unity can mean spending less time on lengthy dialogue with a broad and diverse circle and spending more time living into God’s mission for us. It can mean having the courage to find new partners who want to do the same.
The unity of the Spirit grows through the bonds of peace. It is happening and we feel fortunate at Evana to be a part of that.
John Troyer lives in Goshen, Ind., and is the transitional administrator for Evana Network, an emerging network for Anabaptist churches. He blogs for Evana here, where this first appeared.