Worship service confronts convention’s wounds

In contemplative service, pastor calls MC USA to see Christ in brokenness

Jul 6, 2015 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The emotional wounds inflicted by discourse and decisions in the Mennonite Church USA convention delegate hall were the focus of a contemplative and repentant evening worship service on the gathering’s final evening at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral.

“It has been quite a week,” said Samuel Voth Schrag, pastor of St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship, to about 150 people on July 4 at the beginning of his meditation. “I have wept more this week than I have in any week since my father died six years ago.

“I have felt the pain because of the choices of the church and how we treat one another.”

Schrag, a member of the MC USA Executive Board, highlighted the fact that the resurrected Lord shows the holes in his hands to his followers, despite the reasonable expectation that the king of glory would sit on the throne in pristine condition.

Christ carried the wounds of his past on Easter Sunday, and the risen Christ is actually recognized because of his wounds.

“We claim that we are the body of Christ,” Schrag said. “Should we not look to the wounds in the church and of the church to discover Jesus? But this is not what we do.”

Sinfully putting forth a paper-thin reputation of a house that is in order, Mennonites are denying the gospel’s evidence and a Bible full of wounded people. By learning to listen to every congregation’s and individual’s story of woundedness, Schrag suggested people can learn to love better.

“Christ, who is found at the margins, reveals himself in the pain of his children who gather,” he said.

And there is a lot of pain.

Schrag named the violence of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s sexual misconduct and the church’s lack of response. He named the shame of Mennonites settling land stolen just a few years earlier from those who possessed it — celebrating their exodus while ignoring those swept away by it.

Systems of oppression

Schrag named the racial brokenness of his St. Louis community, which came not out of the blue but from hundreds of years of American history.

“I have found myself struggling with how to speak faithfully, pastoring a church that is almost entirely white in a segregated city, preaching a style that is almost quintessentially middle-class Mennonite, and coming from a religious tradition that encourages me not to speak to government, not to challenge political systems of oppression and evil but instead to simply acknowledge that the world is fallen and get back to the work of trying to transform the church and to leave the public realm to its own devices,” Schrag said.

Stating that he cannot love his neighbors without being willing to confront the injustices they face, Schrag did not shirk from noting the July 4 rocket’s red glare and celebration of the land of the free.

“I am so much more aware today than I was about how false this is,” he said. “That we have stacked the deck against black and brown people, that urban ghettos and the persistent wealth gaps in our cities and jails filled with black bodies are not accidents of history but are deliberate policy choices by a government founded in white supremacy.”

The passion and occasional holy anger of Schrag’s message were contrasted by the service’s contemplative mood. Worship leaders traded the headset microphones and computerized lighting displays of the main worship sessions for moments of silence and kneeling around a cross lying on the floor.

The service moved slowly, not attempting to rush forgiveness or accept cheap grace.

“I will remember so many people who stood at microphones and bared their souls and experienced their church decide against them, grumble against them, even silence their voices,” Schrag said. “I will especially remember the pain in the eyes of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people who were wounded again by our church; grieving the wounds we offer once again, when we deny their agency and do not trust their love.”

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