Nancy Kauffmann is denominational minister for Mennonite Church USA.
After every convention, our youth group at College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana gives a report to the congregation. Each member of the youth group responds to three questions, one of which is, “Where did you see or experience God at work while at convention?” I enjoy hearing the responses. It causes me to reflect on where I have seen or experienced God at work recently. I am amazed how many stories I’ve encountered where at first, I had not given God credit, but then realized these were stories of God working in and through other people. Reflecting on what has happened increases my hope and encourages me to look for God as I move forward.
So in the last few months, where have I seen or experienced God at work within the church?
In June, I saw how God had been at work in Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference (PNMC) while listening to the roll call of the congregations at their annual assembly. Usually roll call requires the simple response of standing when your congregation’s name is called. While I find it interesting to see who is present, roll calls are usually a mundane part of a business meeting. This time though, when each congregation was called, they were to say, “We stand with our neighbors by …,”and fill in the blank. I must admit I was expecting to hear some of the typical responses like helping at a local food pantry or recuse mission, or financially supporting a specific program — all of which of worthy things to do. But I was not expecting the profound moment I experienced as I listened to each congregation’s unique response. I was moved by the range of things shared, as well as the creativity and boldness of the hands-on work of congregations in their communities! That roll call gave such a witness to God at work through the church.
In July, I experienced God at work during the Future Church Summit in Orlando. After all that the church has been through, I found hope for the church in the gathering of such a wide and diverse group of people gathered around 90 plus tables, not talking about an issue, but discussing a vision for our denomination. Our traditional way of doing business was laid aside to allow for a fresh new way for people to engage in conversation with each other. There was energy in the room. I saw people who have never spoken in front of a group before willingly get up to share from their heart. I was moved at the end of the Summit when people immediately stood up to clap for its leaders. (See the Sept. 5 article, Dreams for the Future Church: Reflections from the FCS Design Team for a fuller description of the Future Church Summit.)
In August, at Mountain States Conference Assembly, I heard about how God was at work in the lives of four new millennial pastors who each shared their faith stories. While their stories were very different, there were common threads: a deep and sincere faith, a strong belief that God was and is at work in their lives, stories of how they found a home in Anabaptism and Mennonite Church USA and a clear call to ministry.
The most recent place where I have seen God at work is through the massive response from people across the church to the needs after Hurricane Harvey. (I am sure it will be the same for Hurricane Irma.) Yes, lots of money is being donated, but there is an amazing number of people who are volunteering to be on location and roll up their sleeves to do whatever is needed to show compassion and love to those who have lost so much.
And finally, I have seen God at work though the action taken by Columbus Mennonite Church in their willingness to become a sanctuary church for a hard working woman with no criminal background who was to be separated from her children and deported. That takes great courage to fulfill Jesus’ words, “For I was a stranger and you took me in…” (Matthew 25).
This is only a partial list of the many places I’ve encountered God in the last few months.
But intentionally reflecting on the question gives me hope. It gives me perspective and courage in the midst of all that is going on in our world and in my life.
A new question for looking forward might be, “Where will I see and experience you today, God?