Delegates study ‘unity of the Spirit,’ offer ideas for peacemaking

Jul 4, 2019 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mennonite Church USA delegates on July 4 studied the biblical vision for “unity of the Spirit,” heard the announcement of a mission leader’s retirement and offered ideas for the denomination’s peace witness.

Tom Yoder Neufeld’s Bible study focused on Ephesians 4:3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Emphasizing the definitions of spirit as “wind” and “breath,” he described God as bringing “unsettling, wind-driven” unity — the primal energy of creation — to the church.

“What if we thought of the church as the children of the wind?” he asked. “One thing you can’t do with wind is control it. . . .

“The unity of the Spirit is this turbulent storm within God’s embrace. That’s what peace looks like until we all see God face to face together. If Jesus is God’s peace, then the peace we know today is the peace that is constantly being unsettled by its generosity toward enemies and strangers.”

Yoder Neufeld encouraged the delegates to “rejoice in our awkwardness” as the body of Christ.

“The body of Christ will never walk elegantly, but it will walk gracefully,” he said. “That is its perfection.”

Referring to the biblical image of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, he said this refers not to our individual bodies but to the church.

He asked: What building materials would we use to build a home for God? He said the walls of God’s temple are made up of things people have thrown away.

This can be a difficult idea for those in the Anabaptist tradition who want a disciplined community “without spot or wrinkle.”

“We have a hard time following Jesus out to the garbage heap to find building materials because that would unsettle the niceness of our building,” Yoder Neufeld said.

“We should test whether we are a peace church by the hospitality we have toward each other. . . . The church is a place of radical hospitality and also radical transformation.”

Mission leader retires

Madeline Maldonado, a member of the Mennonite Mission Network board, announced that Stanley Green, Mission Network executive director, will retire at the end of July next year.

“Stanley is a servant leader who has dedicated a lifetime to the church,” Maldonado said. “He has been a gift to our denomination and the church as a whole.”

Green expressed gratitude for the privilege of serving in denominational mission leadership for 26 years, 19 of them with Mission Network.

“Across the years I have gained many friends and made many treasured memories that will live with me forever,” he said.

Future of peace witness

In the afternoon, delegates spent time in table groups discussing “what one part of our peace witness do we want to work on together for the next biennium?”

Summarizing their table group’s ideas, several said responding to the immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border should be a priority.

Creation care as it relates to climate change was often mentioned. Citing the ability to give up conveniences we take for granted, Lily Mast of Boulder, Colo., noted that Mennonites have a legacy of communal simplicity.

“Mennonites know simple communal living is one of blessedness and abundance, not deprivation,” she said.

Matt Lehman Wiens of Wichita, Kan., suggested practicing radical hospitality, “breaking bread with people we disagree with.”

Jill Schmidt of Denver, Colo., suggested “creating a tangible action plan for how to mend relationships with churches that have left” the denomination.

Other ideas included practicing welcome toward LGBTQ people, responding to gun violence and helping congregations offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

Robin Schilling of Blooming Glen, Pa., urged a strong scriptural foundation for peacemaking.

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