Mennonite Church USA
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”—Mark 4:37-38 TNIV
I am writing this column on the grounds of Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The delegates of Mennonite Church Canada gathered here for discernment under the theme “Wild Hope: Faith for an Unknown Season.” I joined them along with Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and several others with roles of leadership in Mennonite Church USA.
The planners for the Canadian conference believe their church must prepare itself to take Christian faith into a new cultural and civic landscape shaped by the values of post-Christendom. They anticipate a foreign season, an era that even now is taking many churches by storm, bringing to mind the fearsome plight of the disciples in a boat tossed by the sea. Expecting a time of disorientation, the Canadian leaders suggest that the future for the church must be shaped by wild hope rather than predictability, embracing God’s call for a different kind of witness in the world.
In his indigenous welcome to the assembly, Norman Meade of the Métis people voiced a preference for alternative wording: “Wild hope—I like to call it divine hope. We need divine hope to give us strength to go forward … it’s only through the divine strength of God that we can look forward to a better future for all of us.” His sentiments transported me back in spirit to my eighth-grade graduation ceremony, where our class sang a popular song with the words:
“Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand,
“But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.”
The song portrays an individualistic view of the way Jesus guides us day by day into an uncharted future. Our class surely sang it with a sheltered naivete about a rapidly changing world that would question some of our most basic and long-held assumptions about life, such as gender orientation. Nevertheless, the song expressed the divine hope voiced by the Métis elder: We believe that just as Jesus accompanied his disciples in the boat, he can address our fears and calm the storms we face.
To guide their church community through a daunting season of corporate change, our Canadian brothers and sisters have adopted two processes of communal discernment, each led by a task force. The first—Being a Faithful Church—is an effort to engage congregations all across Canada in biblically based moral discernment. Having focused on peacemaking and environmental concerns over the last several years, they are now discussing issues about same-sex inclusion.
The second change process is guided by the Future Directions Task Force, with the hope they can find more sustainable structures on the congregational, area church and national church levels. Both of these task forces reported at the biennial assembly and engaged delegates in table discussions.
Although the delegates reflected on the story of Jesus calming the storm, their calm deliberations were a far cry from the wild sea and emotional chaos of Jesus’ disciples lashed by a squall. The delegates engaged the issues of same-sex marriage and unsustainable structures with a patient thoughtfulness that would serve well as a model for the Mennonite Church USA delegate assembly next year, when we will address similar issues.
Like our brothers and sisters in Canada, we should name an audacious hope in God as we face the storms that threaten our own church. Through humble trust in God, we will be able to navigate the unsettled waters that have roused our fears and threatened to fracture our relationships. We can rest assured that just as Jesus cared for his disciples in the midst of a storm, he also cares for us.
Ervin Stutzman is executive director of Mennonite Church USA.