Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other. . . . A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
— Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
I am pleased to introduce one of the churches I serve as a regional conference minister in Mennonite Church USA. Peace Mennonite Fellowship in Claremont, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, is not a typical four-walls church.
It is a home-base church that has served almost 200 members over the years. Students and professionals usually fit in a living room or back yard.
It is a congregation with multi-racial and bidenominational (MC USA and Brethren in Christ) roots. Members live in multiple counties and states but find a common life in following Jesus.
It’s intriguing to see thriving, mostly retired congregants actively engage in fostering peace in their communities.
David Augsburger, one of the pastors, says that perhaps the congregation should be called Diaspora Mennonite Church, scattered as they are geographically but Zoom-connected.
They went online for three Sundays a month due to COVID-19 and have largely stayed online because of their geographic spread. Members join from Orcas Island, Wash., the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles, Orange County (with a population of more than 3 million), the city of Lake Elsinore to the south and Pasadena to the west.
They connect at least as closely on Zoom as over a potluck in a back yard.
Despite the current upheaval — COVID-19, mass shootings, fear of attending churches due to shooting or getting sick, and skyrocketing fuel prices — Peace Mennonite Fellowship continues with passion. They take seriously the admonition in Hebrews 10:25: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
They gain tools for brokering peace by studying books together, Augsburger says.
They started the summer with The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray — and chuckled when someone observed that apparently no one had been willing to pose for a cover photo. Then, seriously, they began to talk about what it means to take off the cultural and traditional layers of “Christian clothing” — thrift-store simple-living garb, activist coveralls, Pentecostal hat, evangelical stylishness.
Suppose we strip it away — along with white cultural supremacy, -hybrid-car superiority and ethnic pride. What does following Jesus in Anabaptist practice look like behind our public face?
Augsburger says Murray is a great conversation starter. He digs for the essence, the core, the central commitments of our faith. He searches beneath the surface to uncover the heart of following Jesus.
Murray writes from the United Kingdom, where Christendom once wore the crown. He helps us see the parallel reality in the United States: how evangelicals have lifted the banner of American Christendom and waved it above all others.
He makes us think about the -necessity of community in our discipleship and the centrality of following -Jesus in our personal and social choices.
These are vital topics amid conversations about the divided political scene, the ignored environmental crisis, famine in Africa, the brutal war in Ukraine.
Peace Mennonite Fellowship initiated an altar of prayer about the challenges in their community and around the globe. They understand that it matters what concerns we bring to God as a gathered community. It also matters how we stir each other up to be faithful workers and witnesses.
Some give thanks for virtual church; others resist it. No matter how we gather, we engage the world together, placing our passion for peace, justice and well-being for all in the loving hands of Jesus.
Brokers of peace come in all colors and ages. Some gather within the walls of a church and others outside those walls.
Peace Mennonite Fellowship is brokering peace one cyberlink at a time, building a movement of Jesus-followers among neighbors near and far.
Their cord of faith is strong. If one falls, others lift them up. Their toil will have a good reward.