Ervin Stutzman is executive director of Mennonite Church USA.
In the middle of February, I attended the annual convocation of Christian Churches Together for the sixth time.
I am drawn to this fellowship of churches because it is unique in this country. It brings together denominational leaders from the five families of Christian faith — the Orthodox, Catholic, Historic Black churches, Mainline churches, and the Evangelical/Pentecostal. All decisions are made by consensus, not majority vote, so it provides a safe space for all.
I attend the “family meeting” the Evangelical/Pentecostals, so I’m getting to know the national leaders of the International Church of God, the Free Methodist Church, the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana as well as Cleveland, Tennessee), the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Vineyard Church, the Wesleyan Church and the Evangelical Covenant Church, among others.
However, I have some of my most surprising and fulfilling personal conversations with leaders from the Orthodox
and the Catholic Church. I was enthralled to hear Roman Catholic Bishop Mitchell Rozanski explain the “behind the scenes” process of Pope Francis’ efforts to renew their church through his (re)appointments and changes of responsibility for cardinals and bishops. And I met an Orthodox priest who grew up in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, but whose parents joined the Mennonite church when they were baptized in the Spirit. We discovered a number of mutual acquaintances, and a number of significant ways that our spiritual lives followed similar paths.
We grieved with Orthodox Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, who spoke about the deep suffering of his fellow Christians in the Middle East.
In the countries of Syria, Iran and Iraq, about 90 percent of the Orthodox Christians have fled their homes, largely because of war and religious persecution.
These are places where Mennonites have nurtured relations with both Muslims and Orthodox Christians for many years. The occupation by American troops in Iraq and the use of drones have exacerbated religious tensions, resulting in widespread suffering by both Muslims and Christians. It grieves me to see the way that these faith communities have come to be at such costly odds with each other.
Perhaps the most amazing moment for me was on Friday evening, when we attended a worship service at Saint Teresa of Avila, a black Roman Catholic parish. I was moved by the evangelical fervor of the congregation and their warm hospitality. To my surprise, the deacon informed me that a former Mennonite pastor couple are members there. I wish every Mennonite church would have the same desire to reach their neighbors for Christ with the holistic gospel as expressed in their mission statement.
In the recent convocation, Christian Churches Together gave much of its attention to promote evangelism, alleviate poverty and reduce hunger in the world. We also sought ways to assist immigrants and refugees, and to reduce racial tensions in our nation.
I am grateful that others care about the same things that we work for in Mennonite Church USA.