Who we call matters

Jun 23, 2014 by

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I’ve stepped into a new area of responsibility in my role working alongside pastors in Franconia Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA. This role change, which began in November, has to do with guiding our process of credentialing pastoral leaders.



It feels like an overwhelming responsibility. It’s been done in the last decades by people who seemed to have more gravitas than I ever will.

At the same time I’ve engaged this role, the denomination has run into a heated debate on who may serve as a credentialed pastor.

With Theda Good’s licensing for ministry at First Mennonite Church of Denver by Mountain States Mennonite Conference, we’ve been pushed into a volatile conversation. It’s a conversation not about call and giftedness but about theological perspectives — and, essentially, who can be recognized as a pastoral leader. (Good is in a committed, same-sex relationship.) Who is appropriate to call? What does this say about us?

Good’s licensing — and the unconnected move by Eastern Mennonite University to launch a listening process about employment for people in same-sex relationships — have raised anxieties and altered the questions.

We know in Franconia Conference that we don’t all agree on everything. But it’s become more critical to ascertain a leader’s willingness to affirm the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective while recognizing that many of us have points of dissonance. We’re asking specific questions and naming the Confession’s articles more clearly as points of struggle and contention.

Article 19 on marriage does come up. But so do creation care, stewardship and the passive interpretation of non­resistance. Current and next-generation leaders are asking different questions, ones not prevalent in the time the Confession was written in the early 1990s.

Confessions are written usually to address specific theological questions and contextual issues. Even the church’s most historic creedal confessions, like the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed, were intended to respond to questions and heresies of the day. For most of us, it’s not a great theological debate to declare that Jesus is the Son of God, begotten not made.

Today we are testing the ability of MC USA’s 1995 Confession of Faith to respond to contemporary questions, because it was written almost a generation ago.

Who we call as credentialed leaders matters. Anabaptists have an uncomfortable relationship with the “clergy” class, preferring to emphasize the “priesthood of all believers” and declare we all are ministers.

But still we set aside leaders, publicly, to represent us. Those people carry a special task of representing the sacred, something beyond ourselves. This is to me a great and, at times, uncomfortable mystery — something between God, the person and the world.

It’s a holy task. I’m filled with wonder as I watch communities call an increasingly diverse array of people to represent the sacred way of Jesus. This diversity challenges our image of who we are now and who we are becoming.

We must continue to ask what is just, faithful and hopeful. We must lean into possibilities of grace and truth.

If I’ve learned anything over these last six months — if we’ve learned anything as a denomination together — it’s that who we call as public ministers in a somewhat ancient process still matters.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor, student and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

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