To put love in action, Mennonite Church USA makes a list

Broken but beloved, leaning on a basic truth

Jul 10, 2017 by and

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ORLANDO, Fla. — For 3,200 people at the Mennonite Church USA convention July 4-8, “Love Is a Verb” was more than a grammar lesson.

The week’s theme focused on the basic truth that Christian faith is love in action.

But what to do? The list is long.

Emmanuel Mwaipopo of Norristown (Pa.) New Life Mennonite Church, Jordan Farrell of Beth-El Mennonite Church in Colorado Springs and Kiara Yoder of Zion Mennonite Church in Hubbard, Ore., discuss the resolution on Israel-Palestine during a delegate session July 6. — Vada Snider for MWR

Emmanuel Mwaipopo of Norristown (Pa.) New Life Mennonite Church, Jordan Farrell of Beth-El Mennonite Church in Colorado Springs and Kiara Yoder of Zion Mennonite Church in Hubbard, Ore., discuss the resolution on Israel-Palestine during a delegate session July 6. — Vada Snider for MWR

Though diminished in size since it last convened two years ago, what is still North America’s largest Mennonite denomination now possesses a lengthy list of ideas to shape its future.

The list comes in the form of a document with 154 points written at the Future Church Summit, whose 14-hour process supplanted typical delegate business and made this convention unique.

The summit’s outcome — an unprioritized list offered to the denomination for “discernment” rather than “direction,” a different outcome than had been expected — left some wondering how to make its words active.

“My concern is that because it was such a broad-based result and the themes are so much across the board, moving forward could be daunting as we bring these back to our congregations,” said Chris Becker of St. Paul, Minn.

Yet he and other delegates who looked back on their work July 8 during a midmorning break in the Orange County Convention Center expressed hope for the summit’s impact.

“The challenge will be to see how we can turn this into concrete action,” said Naomi Yoder of Goshen, Ind. “I hope it can give us a sense of meaning and purpose.”

At worship services and seminars, speakers and songs identified God’s love as the source of that meaning and purpose.

“God’s wild, extravagant love has the power to literally change the world,” denominational youth minister Rachel Springer Gerber told the Youth Convention.

Weird and quirky

Best-selling author Rachel Held Evans, the convention’s star speaker from outside the Anabaptist tradition, presented an idea that found its way into the Future Church Summit: following Jesus is weird, in the best possible sense.

“What the church needs most is to recover some of its weird,” said Evans, an Episcopalian, in one of the convention’s featured seminars. “In the ritual of baptism we act out the bizarre truth of Christianity: We stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love. There’s nothing normal about that.”

Echoing Evans, summit participants observed that Mennonites have good quirks of their own.

Delegate Tim Frye of Hillsboro, Kan., said: “For the past 100 years we’ve tried to be normal. . . . We need to go back to being weird again and be a contrast community and speak with prophetic voices.”

When Future Church Summit theme team members reported they had received 1,254 affirmations of the church — being a Jesus-centered community, witnessing for peace, not conforming to the ways of “empire” — they added: “and, more than once stated, just our general quirkiness.”

Israel-Palestine

With the summit taking 14 hours of delegates’ time, the agenda had only one other major business item: a statement on Israel-Palestine, extensively re­written since delegates tabled it two years ago.

Passed with 98 percent support, the resolution opposes the Israeli military occupation of Pal­estinian territory while taking a stand against anti-Semitism and affirming stronger relationships with Jewish communities. It asks Mennonites not to invest in companies that profit from the occupation.

Broken and beloved

Throughout the city, conventiongoers put God’s love in action through servant projects. Inside the Orange County Convention Center, they worshiped and mingled — sometimes both at once during hymn-sings led by Pink Menno, the LGBTQ advocacy group. They browsed the exhibit area, where for the first time the five colleges modeled a spirit of unity by combining their display space. Meals were different too, as people gathered in a room lined with food stands. The youth got a worship-space upgrade to a performing-arts venue with a sloped floor and balcony.

A Youth Convention worshiper’s T-shirt — “Be doers of the word . . . doers who act” (James 1:22-25) — reflects the Mennonite Church USA convention theme, “Love Is a Verb.” — Vada Snider for MWR

A Youth Convention worshiper’s T-shirt — “Be doers of the word . . . doers who act” (James 1:22-25) — reflects the Mennonite Church USA convention theme, “Love Is a Verb.” — Vada Snider for MWR

One adult worship service acknowledged the denomination’s brokenness — a trend of membership loss that was one of the reasons this convention drew the lowest attendance in MC USA’s 15-year history.

The July 6 worship service included a “lament for loss, grief and brokenness.” It noted that MC USA had changed in two years, with the loss of Lancaster, Franklin and North Central conferences — nearly 200 congregations in just these groups, plus other withdrawals.

“We are God’s beloved church . . . you are our beloved God,” worshipers repeated throughout the litany. “We know that those who have left are your beloved church as well.”

Those who had dreamed of the church’s future at Orlando went home with new ideas — and, perhaps, with questions, like the one Goshen (Ind.) College professor Regina Shands Stoltzfus asked during a July 5 worship service: “If love is a verb, how are we doing?”


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