Looking back with joy and confession

Remember Who You Are: Book review: Reflections on Identity, Leadership and Faith, by James M. Lapp Remember Who You Are: Book review: Reflections on Identity, Leadership and Faith, by James M. Lapp

James M. Lapp’s memoir is like a conversation with a friend — sitting at a fireplace, coffee cup in hand, for an evening of casual but profound sharing. These are the kinds of conversations one has with friends who stay faithful over time, ­distance, triumphs and grief.

In this case, the friend is also a pastor. I commend Remember Who You Are to all who wish pastors would talk with them about life, its struggles and joys, and how faith shapes attitudes and behaviors. Can we confess mistakes without severing relationships? Can we admit we are insular and parochial but, with time, travel, education and mentors, become globally minded? What can we learn from our elders and how they grappled with life’s challenges and triumphs?
We can learn a lot from the life of Jim Lapp, who was raised in a large family notable for its production of Mennonite leaders. His father, John E. Lapp, was ordained at 27, the youngest pastor in Franconia Mennonite Conference, then ordained a second time as Franconia’s youngest bishop at 31. From his influential father and efficient, practical mother, Jim inherited physical height and a steadfast faith in Jesus Christ. Leaving the house as a teenager, the parental admonition to “remember who you are” rang in his ears. Evidently his siblings heeded the same mantra; all eight, and their spouses, assumed significant roles in the Mennonite Church — ­“overlap(p),” indeed.

Part I on Identity depicts ordinary and impactful family events. A theme of looking back with joy and honest confession is repeated throughout the book. Stories of high school, college and seminary and of falling in love with Nancy Swartzentruber — and then falling in love a second time, after Nancy’s death, with Miriam F. Book — fill in details of the life story. Memories of pranks and mistakes add spice.

Part II on Leadership switches to the role Jim played in the Mennonite Church denominational world. From congregational pastor to campus pastor at Goshen College to leadership in the MC denomination, then back to pastoring, Jim follows his family’s legacy of service to the church.
I was intrigued by this section because Jim’s path crossed with mine. Beginning in 1995, we served on the Integration Committee that was tasked with designing the merger of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church, creating Mennonite Church USA.

I experienced Jim as a pastor, always on task and a complement to the other committee staff: Helmut Harder of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada (which ultimately did not join the merger) and Vern Preheim of the GCMC. Jim could sing (as could all three men), and each commanded attention to vision and to detail.

Jim Affirmed me — an ordained woman pastor from the more progressive GCMC — as committee co-chair with John C. Murray. Jim’s gradual acceptance of women in church leadership was a huge area of growth, thanks particularly to wife Nancy’s giftedness and feistiness. She refused to wear a cape dress when Jim was ordained — a principled move, since that style of clothing, symbolic of “Old Mennonite” conformity, was not part of her belief. Today, wife Miriam and daughter Cindy are both ordained Mennonite pastors who delight him greatly.

Accepting the role of conference minister in Franconia Conference, Jim became embroiled in Franconia’s struggle over gay and lesbian membership. Looking back, he appeals to God’s grace for Christians to strengthen each other in their diversity of gifts, experiences, gender and faith. He regrets his loyalty to structures rather than to Christlike beliefs.

Part III on Faith is good reading for emerging leaders. He offers eight “theological trajectories” — from perfection to grace, from exclusion to inclusion, from prayers to a life of prayer, and more. He acknowledges his privilege as white, male, middle-class, (even tall), which gave him access and power rarely sought.

I am grateful for Jim’s love of Jesus Christ, his faithful leadership in the church and his sage perspective. This is how a wise pastor shares nearly 60 years of church ministry: with lessons to benefit the generations that follow and reflections to enhance the understanding of those who experienced his own era of history.

The book can be purchased for $18, including mailing costs; contact miriamfbook@gmail.com or Miriam F. Book at 1001 E. Oregon Rd., Lititz, PA 17543.

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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