Welcoming a new Christian story

Dec 8, 2014 by

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The adult Sunday school “homework assignment” was to find out how many immigrant congregations were located in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area. Using the Yellow Pages and a Google search, the class discovered 11 Latino congregations, two Ethiopian congregations, a pan-African group with Nigerian and Kenyan co-pastors, two Sudanese congregations, three Korean congregations, as well as Cambodian, Laotian and Chinese churches. This is today’s reality in a mid-size Midwestern city.

Gingerich Stoner

Gingerich Stoner

Wes Granberg-Michaelson reflects on the profound changes taking place in the Christian church in his new book, From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church. Granberg-Michaelson offers reflections from careful study and many experiences in church leadership. He was an early editor for Sojourners magazine and on the staff of Sen. Mark Hatfield. He worked for the World Council of Churches in Geneva and then was general secretary of the Reformed Church in America for 17 years. I have come to know and respect him as a convener of Christian Churches Together. CCT has been a wonderful place for Mennonites to build relationships with leaders of Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, evangelical and Orthodox Churches and to find our place in the broader body of Christ. Mennonite Church USA joined CCT in 2007.

In this book, Granberg-Michaelson gives an insightful overview of what is increasingly recognized as the shift in the center of gravity in the global church from the north to the south and east. New patterns of migration are bringing Christians who have been shaped in non-Western settings to Europe and North America. While we are increasingly aware of Muslim immigrants and adherents of other faiths, roughly 60 percent of all immigrants are Christian.

Granberg-Michaelson also sketches the development of Protestant denominations, which number more than 40,000. The body of Christ, he writes, is endlessly denominated, geographically separated, spiritually bifurcated and institutionally insulated.

Examining core themes from the Old and New Testament, Granberg-Michael­son makes a compelling case that God has a heart for the unity of God’s people. The image of a connected and interdependent body is central to the writings of Paul.

This is not just about life in a local congregation but about who we are as the broader body of Christ. Paul admonishes us to “maintain the unity of the Spirit.”

This unity already exists. It is not something we work to achieve but a reality we learn to embrace and celebrate.

“The varied expressions of the Christian family move in their particular ways, speeds and directions,” writes Granberg-Michaelson. “But it is critical at this historic point of transition that we learn how to journey together.”

Creating space for encounter and relationships, welcoming each other’s stories with respect and curiosity, worshiping together and honest conversation are keys to this journey.

He highlights the remarkable work of the Global Christian Forum. For the first time, Pentecostal apostles, Catholic bishops and leaders of African-Instituted Churches are learning to know each other. Leaders are being enriched by different traditions, and new opportunities for shared witness are emerging.

We don’t need to travel across the globe to encounter Christians with very different backgrounds and experiences. Now we can travel across town.

We can also encounter the global and multifaceted church in our own Mennonite family at area conference gatherings or national conventions.

Parts of the body with different perspectives can help us encounter Jesus in new ways and deepen our faith. Learning how to journey together with love and respect is a witness to the power and grace of Christ.

Andre Gingerich Stoner is director of interchurch relations and holistic witness for Mennonite Church USA.


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