At MC USA convention, 4,500 challenged to speak up

Armster invites worshipers to join Jesus’ movement

Jul 1, 2015 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mennonite Church USA convention participants were invited to join a movement not for the comfortable or satisfied at the event’s opening worship service June 30 at the Kansas City Convention Center.

Mennonite Central Committee Central States director Michelle Armster preaches during the opening worship service at the Mennonite Church USA convention June 30 in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Mennonite Central Committee Central States director Michelle Armster preaches during the opening worship service at the Mennonite Church USA convention June 30 in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Mennonite Central Committee Central States director Michelle Armster preached about women who didn’t stay quietly in the background but boldly stepped into Jesus’ movement of confronting economic, social and political institutions. Speaking on the crippled woman in Luke 13, Armster said Jesus upended social norms when he healed her in a synagogue on the Sabbath.

“He says to her, ‘You are healed of your troubles,’ ” she said to the 4,557 attendees, including 2,373 youth. “He didn’t go and say, ‘You know, if you accept me as your Lord Jesus Christ . . .’ He didn’t say, ‘You know, you are a woman and I am a man and this kingdom is only for . . .’

Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman encounters a woman on the street during a prayer walk preceding the opening convention worship service June 30. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman encounters a woman on the street during a prayer walk preceding the opening convention worship service June 30. — Lowell Brown for MWR

“He said ‘You are healed of your troubles.’ . . . That touch of liberation challenged the religious system. It challenged the idea that this is the Sabbath and we can’t have healing on the Sabbath.”

Keeping the law was considered more important than loving God’s people.

Participants hold “Black Lives Matter” signs during the prayer walk before the Mennonite Church USA convention opening worship service. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Participants hold “Black Lives Matter” signs during the prayer walk before the Mennonite Church USA convention opening worship service. — Lowell Brown for MWR

“How many ways do we continue to do these things in church?” Armster asked. “We get concerned with the piety and not the concerns of Jesus.”

Rather than wanting to dictate the right interpretation of Scripture or assuring God’s grace only on certain groups, Armster said Christians should return to what it means to follow Jesus, giving voice to those the church and society try to silence.

“We need to speak up, because as followers of Jesus, we can no longer be quiet in the land,” she said. “ . . . See, the Jesus movement is not for the comfortable, it’s not for the satisfied; the Jesus movement is not for the insider. As Christians we are called to preach the good news to the poor, to release the prisoner, to give sight to the blind and liberate the oppressed.

“May we be bold for Christ once again.”

YouTube introduction

Worship opened with YouTube sensation Derek Klingenberg in his natural habitat, singing in a video on his Peabody, Kan., farm. He was soon joined by his brother, Brett Klingenberg, singing to the congregation he pastors at First Mennonite Church in Beatrice, Neb. Their duet culminated in road trips to convention and bitter competition for “Seat #22,” the prime front-row seat in worship.

Their efforts canceled each other out, leaving the seat available to be claimed by an elderly woman with a walker.

Worshipers clap and sing during the Mennonite Church USA convention opening worship service. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Prayer Walk

Hundreds of convention goers preceded the opening worship with a prayer walk through the convention center neighborhood. United by green nametag lanyards and sensible footwear, the crowd meandered along sidewalks, considering unrelenting racial violence, environmental justice, the faith communities of Kansas City and the convention itself.

“Our nation still needs prayer and a mobilized body to bring healing and hope,” said MC USA chief operating officer and director of convention planning Glen Guyton in comments preceding the walk.

Climbing the 200-foot-high Quality Hill bluff overlooking the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, prayer walk participants gathered around a statue of Native American guide Sacagawea and explorers Lewis and Clark. After singing a few rounds of “They will know we are Christians by our love,” the chain wound its way back down the hill and into the worship service.

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