Editor’s note: Following MennoCon19, several bloggers for The Mennonite are sharing reflections.
The church is a mess, thanks be to God. This was a refrain that was repeated time and again in the delegate session by Bible study leader Tom Yoder Neufeld. It was a call and response reminder of the tension and hope that is reverberating within Mennonite Church USA (MC USA). Personally, it also served as a reminder of the tension and hope within me.
Though I’ve either worked for or attended a Mennonite church for the last six years, I have been hesitant to consider myself a Mennonite. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I belonged. Due to my identity as a black, biracial man, as well as my history of abuse and neglect, the question of belonging looms large for me. Though I have always felt loved and appreciated in Mennonite circles, I haven’t always felt understood or included. I don’t understand the love of quilts, the necessity of the Mennonite Game or the blinding speed of Dutch Blitz. Culturally, I have never felt like a Mennonite, and likely never will, so how can I honestly identify with this denomination? These are some of the thoughts and questions I held ahead of convention, and they were answered.
I attended MennoCon19 as a Step-Up volunteer, and from the first night with our participants, I knew it was going to be a good week. Each of them brought a unique energy and insight into the process. They were passionate about the church, eager to be heard and willing to sacrifice their time in order to participate in denominational business. Moreover, their enthusiasm was contagious, and as I saw each of them smile as they officially put on their delegate badges, I felt invigorated for the first time in a long time. They reminded me that working with youth and young adults gives me a unique sense of joy and fulfillment. I’m not yet sure why, but I know I needed that reminder.
The delegate sessions were also enriching. While the historic votes were wonderful, it was the table conversations that filled me. We discussed our vision for the church and theologies of incarnation and shared memories of our most intimate pain and joy. These moments of vulnerable connection were holy, and they reminded me that Spirit is universal and ever-present. We need only be open and attentive to her.
All of this culminated in the anointing service on Friday night, which was a beautiful exchange of embodied divine energy. I was one of several people offering anointing, and every time I made the sign of the cross on someone’s forehead, I felt the Spirit move within me. My entire body felt a strong current of life flow into every open space. It was as if the very river of God had been poured into me and was swirling around endlessly. The energy passed back and forth between me and those I was anointing as effortlessly as my own cycle of breath.
These experiences at MennoCon19 demonstrated two fundamental truths: I’m part of the body of Christ, and I have a place and voice within this particular family. There is still much to be sorted out within MC USA, and I’m certain I will feel excluded or out of place from time to time, but what I’m now confident of is that I can be myself and be Mennonite. It is the Spirit that has connected us and the Spirit that will keep us.
My week in Kansas City illuminated the heart of MC USA for me. A heart that can be sensitive to the spirit when it wants. A heart that beats for the outcast and marginalized. A heart that brings peace, justice and healing wherever it travels.
I don’t know how I’ll be involved with MC USA in the future, but I left MennoCon19 full of hope for all that is possible. I’ll leave it to the Spirit to manifest what is necessary. The church is a mess, thanks be to God.
Ben Tapper has a master’s degree in public affairs and an M.Div. He is a chaplain at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, is co-founder of the Hear Me Project and blogs at Invisible Truths.