Mennonite Church USA is building upon the work of the Future Church Summit at #MennoCon17 in Orlando. A dynamic group of writers has been called together to produce a concise description of MC USA’s shared values and guiding theological foundations. We’re calling this process Journey Forward. Over the next few weeks, the Menno Snapshots blog will be featuring interviews with the Journey Forward writing team and reference council, giving you a peek into the diverse life and faith experiences that are coming together in this moment in MC USA’s history.
Dr. Natalie A. Francisco is lead pastor of Calvary Community Church (C3), Hampton, Virginia together with her husband Bishop L.W. Francisco III.
Tell us one interesting or fun fact about you — something we wouldn’t already know. I love to play Scrabble and Ruzzle word games on my phone or iPad while challenging opponents electronically.
Tell us about one of your spiritual heroes / heroines. How have they been influential in your faith journey? I admire heroine of faith Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) whom I had the pleasure of teaching about for one of my Women’s Noonday Bible study classes. I learned that Phillis was 1 of 6 million enslaved Africans stolen from their homeland and forcibly brought to the Americas between 1700 and 1808. Very little was known about her original name and birthplace, although historians believe that she was born in either Senegal or Gambia. She landed in Boston on July 11, 1761 aboard the Phillis, the vessel after which she was renamed by her Boston slave owners, John and Susanna Wheatley. She became an articulate, intelligent and educated woman who was forced to prove herself and her abilities to a daunting group of prominent white men in colonial Boston to validate the authenticity of her own poetry, as if it was too well written to have been authored by a Negro slave and a woman. Phillis and her poetry were the topic of considerable controversy, yet she continued to write despite her critics and cynics. Her journey to freedom was not an easy one amidst continued controversy in an environment polluted by prejudice that sanctioned slavery and sexism. Nevertheless, her faith remained unshaken. I identify with Phillis in regard to the heritage from which she came, albeit unknown to historians due to the Mid-Atlantic slave trade which transported Africans from their native homeland to other parts of the world. This certainly speaks to the heritage of African Americans with whom I certainly identify. I also relate to Phillis in the sense that I’ve learned to pursue my purpose while discovering and using my gifts in times of adversity and prosperity. Obstacles and opposition can be used as opportunities to profess and proclaim Christ while remaining authentic to who I am.
What is your favorite worship song or hymn? Why? I love the hymn, I Surrender All for it reminds me to depend on and trust in God, as well as to yield my will and ways to Him in exchange for His wisdom, direction and strength each day.
What draws you to this work with Mennonite Church USA and Journey Forward? I agreed to accept Ervin Stutzman’s invitation to serve as a member of the writing team to contribute my gifts of spiritual discernment, biblical understanding/interpretation and writing skills to MC USA in our quest to move the church forward in our vision and practices as we share together in our communities of faith. I was (and am) excited to collaborate with other members of the writing team as well as with the Executive Board to whom we are accountable, the Reference Council, conferences, congregations, and other affinity groups across the church who will assist is in the process of creating an identity document and a curriculum that can be affirmed and utilized in our various contexts.
Our Journey Forward core committments document will reflect what we think is most important as Anabaptists, specifically as MC USA. When you think about your identity as Anabaptist-Mennonite, what value, belief or idea most excites you — what grounds you in your faith? I am most appreciative of the Anabaptist theology and what it represents: the baptism of believers who are of an age and understanding to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and the clarion call to pursue, receive and share the message of peace and justice in light of the Holy Scriptures not just with our words, but with the witness of our lives. My life’s mission is in alignment with these Anabaptist distinctions, and it is what grounds me not just as a Mennonite, but as a follower of Christ.