Cyneatha Millsaps is pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois.
I was at an area conference gathering where one of the attendees said, “We are a little anemic.”
I chuckled, but that statement stayed with me throughout the conference. The more I looked around, the more I thought about all of the conferences, institutions of education and churches within the Mennonite Church. Yes, we are anemic.
I thought about what it means to be anemic. I am anemic, and my doctor recently started me on a new treatment plan. At my last appointment, the doctor said I was dangerously anemic. I told him, “I have been anemic most of my adult life.” With a puzzled look, he said, “Well what are you doing about it?”
Mennonite Church USA is much like me, in physical and spiritual pain from our anemia but lackadaisical about our approach to complete healing. We have become comfortable with our pain. It’s familiar, and we know the alternative will be painful as well. So we choose to sit in our diseased body because it is what we know.
Anemia causes fatigue and energy loss, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, pale skin and insomnia. Even though you are able to keep moving with discomfort, the problems persist. So clearly, we are anemic. Like my doctor asked me, I now ponder about us, what are we doing about it?
I have to start IV injections. Shots in the arm will give me iron to fight the anemia. What would a shot in the arm look like for Mennonite Church USA? As an African-American pastor, I am often asked by church leaders what “the church” needs to do about our diversity issue.
What would it feel like if majority-white congregations left their church home once a month or quarterly and went down the road or around the corner to the nearest church of color? It doesn’t matter if they are Baptist, Methodist or Catholic, as long as they are worshiping our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
They may not sing four-part harmony or hymns from the “blue hymnal.” They may worship longer than 90 minutes. The pastor may not have a three-part homily, but as long as they are worshiping Jesus, what might that do for our sense of diversity?
We are waiting for others to join us; maybe God is trying to send us to join others.
In Acts 10, Peter visits Cornelius, a Gentile. Peter is presented with a vision from God but responds negatively. Peter is concerned about what he believes to be right and true. He cannot fathom a different way. God makes it clear to Peter that what God has made clean is clean. God knows Cornelius’ household is ready for the word. God also knows Peter needs to open his mind and heart and see what God is doing with the Gentiles. Verse 27 states, “And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled.”
There are people worshiping God daily, people who are open to sharing their love of Christ with others, just like us. We have to be willing to go and invest in an equitable relationship, instead of waiting for them to come.
With that same understanding of our anemia, an IV pick-me-up, we should collectively—not a couple from your church but the entire congregation—leave our comfortable sanctuaries and worship style and get a burst of energy from others who are also worshiping and praising our Lord and Savior.
We don’t need to wait for the others to find us. God is calling us to go, be vulnerable and trust God. Remember, this is not about us taking Jesus to others. This is about us getting filled with the love and power of Jesus alongside other brothers and sisters in Christ.
Don’t spend the time with them thinking about all the ways they are different from us. Clearly they are different. Be open to feel the presence of God. Enter into that space with wonder and awe. Unless you are coming as a large group, you don’t have to tell them you are coming; the Holy Spirit will prepare their hearts and spirits long before you show up, as God did for Cornelius and his household.
We may not be able to fully become a diverse church, but we can open ourselves up to the diversity all around us. Over time, we may become friends and begin worshipping God together because we want to.