This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Talking with each other

From the editor

The church today is made up of many traditions. It always has been. We can lament or celebrate that diversity, but we have to acknowledge it, despite the temptation to think our little group (and Mennonites are miniscule in the whole scheme of things) is the true church.

The General Conference Mennonite Church (GCMC), which would have turned 150 years old in May if it still existed, began in part as an attempt to address this diversity. Its founders wanted the Mennonites in North America to be unified without necessarily thinking alike. They adopted the phrase “in essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty.” The trick is figuring out what are essentials. One these founders chose comes from 1 Corinthians 3:11: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”

Though it failed often, as any institution does, the GCMC emphasized two things that stand out to me: (1) We live out our faith primarily in the intimacy of a congregation, and (2) everyone should have a voice in decisions.

I joined a Mennonite congregation shortly after college. It happened to be GCMC, although at that time it belonged to an area conference (Western District) but not the denomination (an option not available now). We joined the GCMC four years later, in 1980.

I didn’t join the congregation because it was GCMC, which I knew nothing about, but because of the life together it shared. But in two years I was working for The Mennonite, the GCMC magazine (and one of the predecessors of this one), and I learned much about the workings of that Mennonite denomination.

I attended all the triennial sessions, which included GCs from Canada and the United States (plus some from South American churches), and reported on the debates as well as the worship. Imperfect as it was, the process encouraged hearing from everyone who wanted to speak. And every congregation could send a delegate if it chose to. The discussions became messy at times. Certainly not all GCs thought alike, but it seemed to work.

After this summer’s annual meeting of the Western District Conference, I heard from some people who attended that they miss the times of working together at such conferences on tough issues. They seemed to be concerned there might be an avoidance of conflict going on.

If that is the case (it’s probably more complicated than that), I understand it. Who likes conflict? Mennonites certainly don’t.

However, true unity, argues pastor Susan Ortman Goering in her reflections on Ephesians 4 (page 25), calls us to address concerns and disagreements. She refers to Parker Palmer, who calls the separation between what is and what can be the tragic gaps in our lives.

Entering that gap, she writes, is what it means to agree and disagree in love. “Are we willing to stay in this gap, to dialogue when we do not agree?”

Elizabeth Raid writes our cover story about her father, Howard Raid, who was an important GCMC leader (page 12). She calls him a builder of bridges who never sought personal power. “Following the biblical call for mutual aid and stewardship meant service was more important than chairing a committee,” she writes.

Perhaps we can learn from the heritage and the ideals of the GCMC and stand together in that gap where we come to unity by talking with each other instead of about each other.

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