Snapshots into Journey Forward: The Writing Team

Mennonite Church USA is building upon the work of the Future Church Summit at #MennoCon17 in Orlando. A dynamic group of writers has been called together to produce a concise description of MC USA’s shared values and guiding theological foundations. We’re calling this process Journey Forward. Over the next few weeks, the Menno Snapshots blog will be featuring interviews with the Journey Forward Writing Team and reference council, giving you a peek into the diverse life and faith experiences that are coming together in this moment in MC USA’s history

Isaac S. Villegas is pastor of Chapel Hill (North Carolina) Mennonite Fellowship.

Tell us one interesting or fun fact about you — something we wouldn’t already know.

When I bake chocolate chip cookies, there’s a secret ingredient I like to sprinkle on top of each cookie, which makes all the difference in the world: Maldon salt.

Tell us about one of your spiritual heroes / heroines. How have they been influential in your faith journey?

I lead Sunday school for a group of kids at church. I started when they were little, maybe four or five years old. Now they’re eight and nine. I’ve learned so much from them about our faith in this mysterious God that we have been getting to know together. I’ve been most impressed with their conviction. Recently, as we were wondering our way into the story of Noah and the flood in the book of Genesis, the kids started asking questions about the inhabitants of earth who weren’t invited into the ark. When the carnage of the story began to dawn on them, a girl in the class spoke up with confidence. “God didn’t do that,” she said with conviction. “God doesn’t kill people.” I didn’t know what to say in response. I’ve read and wondered about this story for all my Christian life, and I’m always at a loss for understanding what that image of God means for my faith. I wish I had the theological conviction of that little girl in my class — her insight. She knows God.

What is your favorite worship song or hymn? Why?

My favorite song in our hymnal is “Joyful is the dark” (#233 in Hymnal: A Worship Book). Brian Wren, the author of the text, explores the imagery of darkness as a metaphor for our faith. Not darkness as evil or lack or failure, but darkness as profoundly beautiful — the loveliness of God’s mysterious presence. The hymn draws us into the night, the beginning of all things, when the Sprit hovered over the waters — that same Holy Spirit who overshadowed the warm darkness of Mary’s womb, full of eternal life, the incarnation in her brown flesh. And the tomb, the birthplace of resurrection: “Joyful is the dark coolness of the tomb,” we sing in the fourth verse; “darkness was the cradle of the dawning.”

What draws you to this work with Mennonite Church USA and Journey Forward?

Iris de León-Hartshorn and Glen Guyton — they drew me into this project; they are the ones who helped me say yes. Iris and Glen have given so much of their lives for our denomination. I’m always touched by their love and energy for our church. When they feel passionately about something, I pay attention. I trust their work.

Our Journey Forward core committments document will reflect what we think is most important as Anabaptists, specifically as MC USA. When you think about your identity as Anabaptist-Mennonite, what value, belief or idea most excites you — what grounds you in your faith?

The gospel of God’s peace — that’s what brought me into the Mennonite church. I wandered my way into a little flock of Mennonites here in North Carolina, and with them I found myself drawn into Christ’s peace — not just for us, but a gospel at home in the world wherever the Spirit moves with grace and mercy, with justice and fierce love. I’m grateful to be part of a Christian tradition that repents of violence and oppression, and instead proclaims our devotion to the prince of peace with our lives, our words and deeds: our churches as incarnations of God’s love for the world.