Journey Forward from a West Coast perspective

Over the next few months we’ve invited folks from across Mennonite Church USA to reflect on our Journey Forward and consider how they’ve seen Renewed Commitments at work in their lives, their congregation or community. If you’d like to contribute to this series by highlighting stories that bring our shared values to life, email JenniferC@MennoniteUSA.org

Linwood (Lin) Rush is a member of Portland (Oregon) Mennonite Church (PMC). He is board treasurer for Mennonite Education Agency board and also serves as vice chair on the board of the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Historical Society. He is a retired regional hospitality services director for the Portland service area of Providence Health and Services. During tax season, Lin volunteers as a tax preparer for the AARP Tax Aide program. He also enjoys spoiling his seven grandchildren, traveling with his wife Marylin, and taking photographs of the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

The Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference, of which my congregation, Portland Mennonite, is a member, sometimes seems far removed from the Mennonite enclaves around Newton, Kansas, Goshen, Indiana or eastern Pennsylvania. So when documents such as the Journey Forward and Renewed Commitments are introduced, they are sometimes greeted with a yawn and very little enthusiasm or commitment. But the Renewed Commitments document has resonated with me in ways that many previous efforts at setting direction for MC USA have not.

PMC is a thriving congregation in an urban setting. While started by mission efforts of the local conference early in the 20th century, the congregation grew rapidly during the Vietnam War with a large influx of Mennonite young men and women serving terms of service as conscientious objectors to war and through an active voluntary service unit. Many stayed and formed the nucleus of the church for the next decades. More recently, the congregation has seen an influx of Mennonite college graduates. And with easily available web searches, Christ followers who resonate with Anabaptist theology, find our congregation to be relevant for their lives.

I believe PMC thrives today because it actively practices the third of the renewed commitments: Experience Transformation. We actively strive to follow the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf” (Jeremiah 29:7).

We seek to be a distinctive Anabaptist community that is actively engaged in the compassion, shalom and justice of the gospel. This focus resonates with today’s young people and other seekers who are looking for a community that reflects God’s love in the Portland communities where we live and work.

We seek to walk with all who are committed to faithfully follow the teachings of Jesus. While this approach to church has caused some pain and loss of members, it has released us to “embody the grace, joy, and peace of the gospel” as stated in the third commitment. Key to helping the congregation move forward is an excellent pastoral staff, who provides challenging sermons, coordinates a wide variety of community service opportunities to serve the poor and vulnerable, and supports a robust children and youth ministry program. Members and attendees come from a 40-mile radius of the church, presenting challenges to the Anabaptist focus on the importance of community. Careful attention to care of members through a Stephens Ministry program and active small groups ensure that community building can still occur on a more personal level. The church serves the community through participation in Night Strike, a volunteer led program to help the homeless and JOIN, a service to those moving out of homelessness. Additional service opportunities allow participation for attendees who bring a broad array of skills and interests to those we partner with.

So when I read the Renewed Commitment for MC USA, I see a focus and direction that I feel mirrors the trajectory that our congregation has been on for some time. The focus on “Journey” speaks of movement in a direction towards following the way of Christ, rather than a focus on boundaries that try to keep us “of one mind.”

This new mindset will set congregations free to live out the call of Jesus in diverse ways that will help them to journey together towards the shalom that the gospels call us to.

This freedom, I believe, will bring new life and energy to the whole of MC USA. While I’m not sure how our congregation will engage with the three commitments on a churchwide level, they certainly resonate with me as something that is consistent with how we practice church here at PMC.

I look forward to the “living into” phase of the Journey Forward and the Renewed Commitments, believing that through the Spirits help and guidance, Mennonite Church USA will thrive and flourish.

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All congregations are invited to use Journey Forward’s “Pathways” study guide. Find it and all Journey Forward updates here.

Your financial support of MC USA helps us equip leaders and tell stories of Anabaptist faith in action across the church. Donate to MC USA here.