This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

My people

Last year I left Mennonite Church USA. I left not because of negative reasons, but rather I was called by a congregation within the Church of the Brethren. It’s been a smooth transition, but it has left me pondering many different things, the most significant of which has to do with identity. What does it really mean to be Mennonite or Brethren? More specifically, this summer I have been pondering the question: what does is it mean to really feel as though you’re a part of a denomination?

This year MC USA and the CoB had their national gatherings, within about two weeks of each other. At some point along the way I realized that while I have officially been Brethren for over a year now, I still feel way more Mennonite.

On some level, I know why this is. I’ve spent a good 15 years or more of my adult life building connections throughout MC USA. When my wife and I stopped by Kansas City for one evening, I happened to stop by the prayer walk as it gathered. I looked out over the crowd and saw 50 people that I knew from a whole range of different settings throughout the denomination. Even though I am not in MC USA and wasn’t even at the convention, I watched and experienced the convention with a surprisingly strong intensity.

My experience at the CoB’s annual conference was much different, although ultimately more insightful. The CoB conference in Florida was significant to me because it may have been the first time in my life where I was genuinely new. In contrast to overlooking the prayer walk in Kansas City, when I walked into the conference in Florida, my first thought was “Please, God, let there be someone here who I recognize.”

Eventually I did connect with some people that I knew, but by and large I spent that week trying to understand the denominational landscape and attempting to identify and connect with reasonably likeminded people. And it was this experience of being new that really gave me the answer to my question. As I tried to navigate this new denomination of mine, I realized that the question that I was attempting to answer was, “Are these my people?” Or at the very least, I wanted to know, “Who are my people within the denomination?” Feeling as though you are truly a part of a denomination really comes down to being able to say that this group of people is in some way “my people.” There are many reasons that people might say this; shared theology, shared biology, a particular culture, whatever it is, there is something that creates that sense of belonging that is really at the core of it.

This sense of belonging is what is really at the core of the current crisis in MC USA. We might dress it up in language of spiritual renewal or theological or social issues, but the reason that Evana Network, Lancaster Mennonite Conference, countless churches over the last 20 years, and many more individuals have chosen or are likely to break communion and leave the denomination is that on some level they just feel that MC USA is no longer “their people.”

As I watch from my view from outside the denomination it is painfully obvious now that those in MC USA no longer see each other as brothers and sisters. Perhaps the reality is that those who are leaving find it so easy because they never actually did see each other as brothers and sisters — which is a realization that may even be more painful for those who did.

Alan Stucky is the pastor of First Church of the Brethren in Wichita, Kan.

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