Our history shapes our Journey Forward

Over the next few months we’ve invited folks from across Mennonite Church USA to reflect on our Journey Forward and consider how they’ve seen Renewed Commitments at work in their lives, their congregation or community. If you’d like to contribute to this series by highlighting stories that bring our shared values to life, email JenniferC@MennoniteUSA.org

David Holcomb is a member of Portland Mennonite Church, where he and his family of five have been attending for the past two years. Except for six months attending Raleigh Mennonite Church in 2002,  just prior to a 14-year stay in Canada, the Holcombs are new to the Mennonite tradition.

I was pleased to be a part of the Journey Forward discussion at Portland Mennonite Church a few weeks ago. Many thanks to Glen Guyton and Iris de León-Hartshorn for their presence! The opportunity to sit in a circle with leaders of the denomination was particularly helpful for me as a newcomer, and it highlighted the mustard seed size of Mennonite Church USA.  It is one thing to read books by Mennonite scholars about this particular expression of faith (as I have done over the past two decades). It is another to understand the connections that so many Mennonites have with one another, connections that run deep through a shared history and personal relationships.

An evaluation of this shared history is a significant part of Journey Forward. “Where are we headed?” begs us to also ask the question, “Where have we been?” Through Journey Forward discussions, last year’s Future Church Summit Report, and the general sense of unease that seems to rest on many in Mennonite Church USA, I have had the fortunate, though sometimes painful, opportunity to learn about where the church has been.

Newcomers, like me, who might come into the Mennonite tradition wearing rose-colored glasses need to know the struggles, the fights, the doubts and the dark secrets. We are all in this together.

So I am grateful for this intensive course on our shared history.

While looking back is necessary and helpful, Journey Forward is about looking ahead. Where are we going? How is God leading us? What is Jesus calling us to be? How do we, with our particular history and gifts from the Spirit, move forward in a way that brings blessing to the world? I am here, believing that the Mennonite Church does have a role to play.

Sometimes in a family we need outsiders to speak into our shared life, pointing out things we easily miss in the day-to-day challenges of living together. In my own family, these outsiders are often teachers of our children (ages 11, 13 and 15). When my wife and I are bogged down by undone chores, unkind comments about a sibling or a lackadaisical attitude towards life, it is a gift for a teacher to let us know that one of our kids is working hard, helping others and making a significant contribution to the class!

So, as a relative newcomer to the Mennonite tradition and as someone who has lived in another country for a significant chunk of time, my gift today to members of Mennonite Church USA are words of an outsider, words of encouragement as we journey forward together. While the struggles, fights, doubts and dark secrets still exist, this body of believers is beautiful! You have something that is valuable and is needed.

Through your shared history, you know what it means to love. You have loved one another with a patient commitment. You have loved those most vulnerable because your history is filled with points of vulnerability. You have loved your enemies because you know that any alternative only leads to death. Through your shared history, you know what it means to take seriously Jesus’ call to be peacemakers in places of violence.

You know what it means, and what it might cost, to bear witness to this way of Jesus’ love, even in the face of opposition and suffering. I have chosen to place myself into this historical memory, and I have a sense that this historical memory is something all of us will need even more in the years ahead. May this be the history that we remember and that shapes us as we journey forward.

And I am not alone. As our world seems to embody brokenness more fully each day, many others like me long for a community of people where following Jesus is both harder and easier: harder because Jesus calls us to love but easier because we were made to love. May our mustard seed sized community welcome others into our life together, and may our life together serve as a witness for how other communities might live faithfully in a broken world.

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All congregations are invited to use Journey Forward’s “Pathways” study guide. Find it and all Journey Forward updates here.

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