Returning to Kansas City, Mo., four years after a contentious convention, members of Mennonite Church USA remarked how much had changed.
There was the size of the crowd: 4,680 at the 2015 assembly; 2,839 this year. There was the worship format: youth and adults together in every service. Most of all, there was the mood. An agenda without controversial decisions cleared the mind to focus on Spirit-filled revival, peacemaking, inclusion, unity and transformation.
Revival might sound old-fashioned, but fits what Kansas City conventiongoers saw, heard and felt. It was a particular kind of revival — one empowered by the Holy Spirit. Speakers said the wind of God carries us to unexpected places: Reconciliation with enemies. Unity with believers who see important issues differently. Repentance of our prejudice so that we can fling wide the church doors and say, “Come as you are.”
Those who need to be revived might feel discouraged or fearful or even spiritually dead. The convention’s featured speakers addressed each of these possibilities.
Sue Park-Hur pressed for a revival of the denomination’s identity as a peace church — an identity that is far from dead but that constantly needs renewal.
Meghan Good diagnosed the more serious possibility of spiritual death. “Some think the church looks like a valley full of bones right now,” she said, referencing Ezekiel’s ghostly vision. She prescribed breathing Jesus’ air, as the disciples did in John 20:22, to gain the fuel we need to live.
Bible study leader Tom Yoder Neufeld’s image of Christians as “children of the wind” — blown where the Spirit wills and where we don’t choose to go — applied scriptural wisdom to overcoming weariness or discouragement. Delegates sought guidance for a denomination founded on a vision of unity that has partially unraveled.
Did the study of unity in the epistle to the Ephesians come a few years too late? Perhaps, but another Bible study wouldn’t have kept everyone in the fold. We take heart in Yoder Neufeld’s counsel that “the unity of the Spirit is bigger and wider and deeper than any of our organizational structures.”
Especially now, members of MC USA are called to be longsuffering — that is, patient and forbearing. But to actually suffer? “You can’t exercise patience without suffering,” Yoder Neufeld said. Patience is at the very heart of the church. It is the frame of mind that makes it possible to “endure with hope for reconciliation, growth, change and repentance.”
All of this is forbearance. Yoder Neufeld described it as a rough, two-way path: While I suffer (forbear) you in the hope that you will repent, you suffer me in the same way. We’re chained to each other. It’s the “bond of peace” in Eph. 4:30. It might feel like bearing a cross.
“We should tell the ones who are getting ready to be baptized: Church hurts,” Yoder Neufeld said, adding: “How far does patience stretch? Well, how strong is love?”
Living at the intersection of pain and love, lament and hope might be where MC USA finds itself right now. MennoCon19 was positive and joyful. It was also tinged with regret and relief. Regret that unity has fallen short and that attendance is down. Relief that those who remain feel comfortable together as a theologically and socially progressive denomination.
Revival is not for the comfortable. We have to suffer for the unity of the Spirit. And let Jesus breathe life into us.