Mennonite Church USA
The congregation’s call to worship during Advent concludes: “Love and faithfulness are embracing. Justice and peace are blending. God’s presence is among us today.”
On a cold Sunday morning in December 2008, at James Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa., several hundred people gathered to celebrate the coming of Good News.
Eight years earlier, this congregation moved two blocks down the street into a renovated warehouse. The warehouse has been transformed into a beautiful space. A community room with windows to the busy city street outside, an airy, light-filled sanctuary, a two-story gym replacing two warehouse floors, ample office and Sunday school space and more—all helping proclaim the continuing presence of Christ in the city.
Before worship, pastor Stan Shantz said the fellowship hall will serve as an overflow homeless shelter for a month this winter. He said city pastors meet in the community room regularly. Pastor Elizabeth Nissley told me a stream of new people is coming to worship.
On this Sunday morning, pastor George Reno of Lighthouse Fellowship in Buras, La., preached. After Hurricane Katrina, the James Street congregation sent a busload of folks to Buras for the first of what has become a regular intergenerational service learning experience. Reno spoke of his love for his people and of his gratefulness for the love the James Street congregation has shown.
Strong bonds have developed between these two congregations, and they are learning, as many other Mennonite congregations have, that in giving they receive much more.
Early in the worship service, a young man lit a peace candle, and the congregation said, “Peace is a candle to show us a pathway, threatened by gusts from our rage and our greed.”
Those gusts were quieted on this Sunday morning as Kathy Weaver Wenger, the worship leader, wrapped a prayer shawl around George’s wife, Ruby, and reminded her that the congregation will be praying for the elderly couple and their small congregation.
I reflected on other congregations I visited recently—Neffsville Mennonite Church, just across town, where I grew up and my parents still worship; my current congregation, Eighth Street in Goshen, Ind., where I am too often absent from worship because of my work for Mennonite Church USA.; Shalom in Newton, Kan., where I worshiped months ago with friends, and Pasadena (Calif.) Mennonite Church, where a friend has accepted a call to ministry.
These congregations and hundreds more that are part of Mennonite Church USA, while different in their expressions of worship and in their understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, share a desire to be a part of God’s activity in the world.
For James Street, this means service, as demonstrated in their trips to the Bayou to assist George Reno’s congregation.
It means vision, as shown in its decision to tithe the renovation of their warehouse facility to help the global Anabaptist family through Mennonite World Conference.
It means courage, evidenced in ordaining Elizabeth Nissley, an act that has helped break the logjam of ordaining women that Lancaster Mennonite Conference leaders are now working through in a healthy way.
It means commitment in choosing to stay in the city to be a sign of God’s kingdom.
At James Street on this Sunday morning, love and faithfulness were embracing.
Ron Byler is associate executive director of Mennonite Church USA.