#WeAreMenno: Bubbles, puddles and Mountain States Mennonite Conference

2015 10 2 Rhoda b

Rhoda M. Blough is the Church Relations Representative for Everence Financial Advisors and her office is located in Denver, Colorado. Rhoda is a key resource to congregations and individuals on stewardship issues particularly as it relates to integrating faith values with finances, utilizing the wide variety of stewardship services through Everence. Rhoda received a seminary degree from Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and has always enjoyed her many roles serving the church in a vast array of positions. She served as Moderator for Mountain States Mennonite Conference for four years and attends Glennon Heights Mennonite. She has two grown daughters; Bethany who is married to John and has two sons, lives in Denver; and Brooke lives in Philadelphia. In her spare time, Rhoda enjoys spending time with her two grandchildren, Ian and Shane, reading, traveling, and conversation and coffee with family and friends.      

Bubbles, puddles and Mountain States Mennonite Conference (MSMC). What do they have in common?

During the 2009 MSMC annual assembly, Herm Weaver, former Conference Minister, challenged MSMC to find those bubbles in our conference where Spirit was breathing life and encouraged us to pay attention to those possibilities.

The SEED committee was born from that challenge as a venture that Seeks, Explores, Encourages and works to Develop vital churches and new congregational initiatives.

The mission of SEED is to actively seek out and acknowledge vitality as it is occurring in the lifecycle of MSMC church communities. SEED actively listens to stories of the faithful; engages in their histories and hopes, visions and dreams; and connects church communities with the support and resources of people, local congregations, MSMC and the larger Mennonite Church USA denomination.

SEED also gives permission and blessing to the creative, risky or new kin-dom building ventures within MSMC.

With the mission in place, SEED has looked across the conference to find churches and individuals committed to renewal. SEED has begun to explore ways to develop new efforts in more tangible ways but has understood all along that failure is acceptable.

What has happened during those first years?

A fund was established to grant “seed” money. Anabaptist Fellowship of Alamosa used SEED grant money as they formalized their church in a community made up of a few Mennonites who had settled in Alamosa, primarily former and current Mennonite Voluntary service workers who desired to be church together. MSMC was delighted to accept and welcome them into our conference.

MSMC churches are scattered across two states, a fairly large geographical area, which made it difficult for those who were working with youth and young adults to have regular face-to-face meetings. SEED was asked to help fund these gatherings which provided opportunities for leaders to meet, share their experiences with one another and become better equipped to go back to their youth and young adults refreshed and renewed.

In 2012 the SEED committee started dreaming about having a staff person, someone who had dedicated time to “pay attention” to emerging ideas. Jaime Lazaro was hired to fulfill this role.

Jaime came with many fresh and new ideas and we were very grateful.

Jaime explored possibilities of nontraditional church and began conversations with Sarah Jackson, Director of Casa De Paz. She works with undocumented immigrants who are detained in the Aurora detention center. As a way to raise funds for Casa de Paz, Sarah established a Latino volleyball league which is becoming “church” for many Latinos.

Other church plants were started, including El Centro in Colorado Springs and Sojourn Mennonite in Fort Collins. We also experienced failures; opportunities which appeared fresh and new, but for various reasons never came to fruition.

Now it is 2015 and we are in a period of re-imagination for both MSMC and SEED. With both our Conference Minister and SEED Director resigning, we are left with a unique opportunity. We know we will continue to pay attention to new things and reimagine where God is leading in our midst. But as we reflect on where we have been, it’s a challenge to keep the focus on building local capacity or movement and not just become the typical conference mission committee. So do we continue moving forward as before, or do we take the time to re-think how we might best accomplish SEED’s mandate?

Our meetings are filled with dreaming, brainstorming, imagining and thinking beyond traditional norms.

As we reimagine, we see our roles as being transformed to a collaborative leadership group offering recognition of initiatives focusing on relationships and capacity building support through alternative resources.

At our MSMC annual assembly this past August, our Acting Conference Minister, Annie Lengacher Browning shared her analogy of what it means to walk into this unknown space we at MSMC are experiencing. She compared it to walking in puddles barefoot after a rain and finding herself on holy ground saying

“I am here, Lord. I am listening. My eyes are peeled, my heart is open, my mind is engaged and my soul is spacious for you and your leading among us.”

Do our next steps at SEED mean walking into those puddles barefoot with our hearts open and listening, our minds engaged sensing God’s leading among us? Let it be so!

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