Andre Gingerich Stoner is director of Holistic Witness for Mennonite Church USA
A few weeks ago about 40 people gathered in a church fellowship hall to reflect on what we are learning from interchurch relations that might help us in our intra-church relations. What are we learning from relationships with Lutherans and Pentecostals, for example, that can help us be church together in our own Mennonite community?
A couple highlights for me:
—John Roth shared what he described as a conversion experience when he was part of the Mennonite-Lutheran dialogue.
“Before that, I had never regarded divisions in the body of Christ as a serious problem,” he said.
—Roth emphasized the importance of seeing not just the strengths of one’s own tradition or group, but also being willing to examine the theological blind spots and deficits of one’s tradition.
—Anton Flores-Maisonet told stories of how love leads us to cross boundaries not only in dealing with differences of culture and race, but also differences of theology and spirituality.
—Eleanor Kreider urged people to approach those with whom we differ in the church with a posture of openness, curiosity and careful listening, and to avoid using words that belittle or are dismissive.
The conversation reminded me of a comment I heard from Alexia Salvatierra earlier this year.
Leprosy, she said, is a disease of the nervous system and leads to a loss of feeling. Leprosy in the body of Christ happens when we stop feeling the pain of our brothers and sisters.
I am finding myself returning regularly to the words of the hymn “Heart with loving heart united.” It was written by a Moravian Brethren leader in the 1720s. It is a challenge and a prayer, both for our interchurch and our intra-church relations. The second verse says in part:
“May we all so love each other and all selfish claims deny, so that each one for the other will not hesitate to die.”
The final verse echoes John 17 to speak of the witness this is to the world:
“Kindle in us love’s compassion so that everyone may see in our fellowship the promise of a new humanity.”
May it be so.
To read more about this gathering and to listen to the audio presentations visit this link.