Doubtless you have heard the song, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” We did a rousing version of it today at Mennonite World Conference assembly, instruments wailing and over 7,000 voices singing along. The chorus yearns, “Lord I want to be in the number . . . ” And I do, I do want to be in that number. My strategy is simple — I will point to the saints singing and praying at Mennonite World Conference and say, “I’m with them.”
People are friendly and eager to engage; so, I asked a number of people what the highlights of today were for them. People appreciated the speakers, particularly Tigist Tesfaye Gelagle, a young Ethiopian woman who spoke honestly about her walk with conviction and doubt in a post-modern world.
She asked, “Is my faith an imposition of the colonizers?” That question resonated with my small friendship group which met after the morning worship. Like Tigist, despite all the issues we are still in the church. Ultimately, Christ is beyond our culture, Tigist assured us. Our small group was full of Canadians but also people from India, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Praying with my small group of new friends from all over brought tears to my eyes. My own church squabbles seemed small and petty. (Well, they are small and petty, but too often I shrink my world to my own measure.) Grace abounded and abounds still. Worshipping together with the body of Christ from all over helps me to recalibrate my faith.
Another thing that made me cry was a young woman singing, “O Prince of Peace” in Javanese. When I don’t understand the words, I understand the meaning more profoundly. At MWC assembly, we sing each other’s songs and hear each other’s stories. We worship together and focus on Jesus.
This sounds so simple, but Mennonites are tempted to focus on the details, the disagreements and the debate. It is a blessing to focus on worship. Many people commented on the music as a moving experience, an emotional connection to each other.
I won’t talk about the logistics and the forbearance necessary to gather over 7,000 people in one set of buildings, except to say that great determination was needed to find the room which housed the North American women theologians workshop. It was well worth the trek. Again, the body of Christ was manifest in new ways. I don’t know how to capture the energy in the room, the raw power of it. One elder stateswoman noted that such gatherings had not been allowed at MWC earlier in the her lifetime; women were only to meet for fellowship, not theology. That women’s gathering, like the assembly as a whole, revealed the fresh, growing edges of the church.
Tigist noted that in our postmodern world, many voices say that faith is not worthy to be pursued passionately. Yet some still do. Some still do. And once every six years, they gather together to encourage one another, to sing each other’s song and hear each other’s stories.
When the saints do go marching in one last time, I want to be in that number. I’m with them.