This post is part of a series from the MC USA Archives Oral History Project that seeks to document and preserve the voices of young people, ages 24-40, who are part of MC USA. The excerpts below are from an informal, longer spoken interview and edited for clarity. Interviewees did not receive the questions beforehand and responses were spontaneous. The interviewer was Xaris Martínez. Full recordings are available in the MC USA archives.
Theresa Peachey Crissman is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and currently works as a long-term local mission worker for Virginia Mennonite Missions, helping churches share the Good News of the gospel with children in their local communities.
Xaris: You’ve talked a little about the impact that going to Mennonite church had on your life and the people that you met there, but why are you a Mennonite? What is important to you about being Mennonite?
Theresa: I’ve seen a lot of really faithful people in the Mennonite church walking with God, and I, of course, the broader values and commitments of the Mennonite church, I really believe in. Following in the way of Christ and caring about the poor and the vulnerable in our communities — that’s what Jesus was completely about. And so seeing the way that there are several different organizations within MC USA that do that… I’ve also seen in [Mennonite believers’] everyday lives, working and being careful about how they live, because they have a real concern for the world and not just America.
There are other Anabaptist denominations that are peace churches, and that’s something that’s really important to me: the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus saying live at peace with one another.
Convention has been really formative for me as well and it’s been really humbling for [my husband] Seth to have the opportunity to lead the worship. I love the aspect of the broader church and the corporate church coming together and serving, sharing worshipping, and I haven’t been a part of that in any other place. So that also really draws me, has drawn me and continues to keep me in Mennonite-dom.
Xaris: What have been some significant events, both good and bad, in the life and history of the church, like during the years that you’ve been a part of it? What have you seen that’s really impacted you, either negatively or positively?
Theresa: The merger and the creation of MC USA was a really exciting time. We’ve had some hard years lately, and it’s been difficult to see the church splitting over things that we don’t agree on. You know, convention used to be bigger, much bigger than it is now. It happened with divorce and remarriage when I was a kid and my dad was not considered as a candidate for a pastoral position because he was remarried. Seeing the church divided over issue-ism has been really difficult.
I just remember feeling really hurt and disillusioned at Kansas City last time because — so many of my friends are a part of churches that have left [MC USA] — just really wanting us to be able to be church together and make that our most important goal, rather than picking this or that that we disagree on. Believing that being together is more important than being right, and wishing and hoping for that as the church…
So that has been hard but also being here [at MennoCon19] this time, being back in Kansas City, and going to worship last night and being able to feel God’s presence in that space.
We’re still carrying on the work, and the churches who’ve left are still carrying on the work too. And it’s different but I wish that we could still be doing it together.
Xaris: What gives you the most energy or hope about Mennonite Church USA right now, and what zaps your energy or what’s the most discouraging part of Mennonite Church USA right now?
Theresa: Seeing the youth gives me a ton of excitement and energy and remembering having been a youth. Just the joy and excitement of being a part of the broader church. And for us [through our work with Virginia Mennonite Missions and Kids Clubs] working with the churches that we work with and seeing relationships bud and flourish between Muslim families and African American families and Honduran families and families that have lived here forever but speak a variety of different languages, Kurdish families, Arabic-speaking families.
It’s just really joyful to see what I identified with as a kid as the white Mennonite church expanding. And seeing people relate, give and receive love with each other, is really joyful. It’s just discouraging when we can’t stay focused on that shared mission. So that’s my hope, that we can continue that together.
Xaris: What advice would you have for denominational leaders, your district conference or your church leadership? What advice do you have for them as they are trying to figure out how to lead this denomination and this church into the future?
Theresa: Listen for the little voices. Don’t be so caught up in the way we’ve always done things and how we think it should be done or just because we’ve always done it that way.
Listen to what people really, actually are saying and what God is really, actually saying, and take a risk. Don’t be afraid to change. We don’t have to do it one way just because it makes the most fiscal sense or because it’s written in our bylaws. Let’s be the church and let’s listen.
Let’s listen to God, and especially let’s listen to each other, and let’s give a voice to the ones who have not been given a voice.