We live in a difficult world. Fear and scarcity are frequent themes in the media, and some of us are experiencing uncertain and challenging times.
And yet as a church—in our congregations, our conferences and the broader denomination—we have unparalleled opportunities for God’s healing and hope to flow through us to the world.
Can we celebrate these opportunities? Can we celebrate the places in our lives where we are responding positively to God’s call? Celebrating what is right can empower us and unleash our energy and creativity.
There are many things to celebrate within Mennonite Church USA. New racial-ethnic congregations are beginning to find the support and resources they need within our denomination. (Recently, almost 50 first-generation Asian, Latin American and African church leaders met together with denominational leaders for this purpose, but that is another story.)
In my own conference, Central Plains, our community network developer, Mark Van Steenwyk, is making contacts with intentional communities and emerging congregations across the country and putting them in touch with Mennonites. Others outside our tradition are finding Anabaptists for the first time and embracing this theology with passion.
Opportunities are flowing in your conference, too. One conference leader recently said she is seeing more church-planting activity within our conferences and among our congregations than she has ever seen before.
Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Central Committee report a significant increase in youth applications for voluntary service opportunities. Many of these youth are not Mennonites from our traditional congregations.
Established congregations are embracing a new missional church vision. Terry Shue, pastor of Kidron (Ohio) Mennonite Church and a member of our Executive Board, has mentored 15 people from within his congregation for pastoral ministry in the last eight years. Nine are now in seminary or have already been in full time Christian ministry assignments.
I hear repeatedly from others outside our Anabaptist circles, “Cherish your treasure; share your treasure with others. Your rooted Anabaptist theology is what the world desperately needs now.” How encouraging and empowering!
Our God is a God of extravagant abundance and our challenge is to take advantage of the opportunities God has given us. With God’s help, we can respond to God’s call with exigency, releasing our preconceived ideas of how church is “supposed to be” and opening ourselves to the hospitality of others.
We have a responsibility to recognize the things within Mennonite Church USA that are going well. What is happening within your congregation and conference that needs to be celebrated? Celebrating what’s right helps us learn how to respond to obstacles and keeps us striving toward our vision of healing and hope.
Dewitt Jones, a photographer for National Geographic, says that “by celebrating what’s right, we find the energy to fix what’s wrong.” When we acknowledge the positive activities in our church, we realize that solutions are possible and that challenges can be overcome.
I’m not a Pollyanna. There are challenges we need to face. We need to learn to follow our vision with joy and passion, capture the creativity of our youth and overcome our complacency and comfort that can numb us from hearing God’s call clearly.
Sometimes we seem to be more interested in arguing about issues that can divide us than in joining together in what God is doing in the world. But looking only at where we are failing can be unproductive. We need to celebrate what’s right and set our energy free to address what’s wrong.
As moderator of Mennonite Church USA these past two years, I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to meet with people all over the country and to hear their stories of inspiration and joy. You are intentionally seeking where God is working and you are actively engaged in meeting needs in our challenging world.
When we learn how to embrace a celebratory attitude of joy and thanksgiving within Mennonite Church USA, we can better serve those around us. Our church is a treasure. May we learn to celebrate this abundant gift and with urgency and exuberance, find new ways to join in God’s efforts.
Sharon Waltner is moderator of Mennonite Church USA.