(Mennonite Church USA) – The five-person Journey Forward writing team — Sarah Bixler (Princeton, New Jersey), Jon Carlson (Leola, Pennsylvania), Natalie Francisco (Chesapeake, Virginia), Jack Swaim (Boise, Idaho) and Isaac Villegas (Chapel Hill, North Carolina) met for the first time on Dec. 11-13 in Washington D.C. to begin their work with Journey Forward, a churchwide process to follow God’s calling for MC USA in the 21st century, and strengthen the church’s identity around broadly shared beliefs and goals.
The Journey Forward project, which will stretch across the 2017-2019 biennium, involves developing a one-page, concise description of MC USA’s shared values and the guiding theological foundations. The process is designed to be reiterative, and will include cycles of feedback and input from all parts of the church that choose to engage.
At their meeting, the writing team studied the outcomes of the Future Church Summit (FCS) and began drafting an updated Journey Forward document, based on the FCS themes, to present to the Executive Board (EB) in early Jan. 2018.
“As they began their work, it was moving to see how passionately the writers worked to ensure that our common identity has biblical and theological integrity,” said David Boshart, moderator of MC USA, who represented the EB at the meeting. “It is clear that the team is united in their deep love for the church and their desire to help our members embody what is at the heart of an Anabaptist understanding of our biblical faith.”
The writing team spent some time at the meeting individually reflecting and writing out theological commitments. Sarah Bixler of the writing team describes reconvening as a group to share what they had written and recognizing God’s spirit moving among them.
“We could see how God’s Spirit had been moving within each of us in similar ways. There was a spirit of gentleness, genuine listening and collaboration,” said Bixler. “This gives me great hope not only for what God is doing within our team, but how God will use this work to move throughout our beloved church.”
A seven-person reference council – Felipe Hinojosa (College Station, Texas), Hyun Hur (Pasadena, California), Katherine Jameson Pitts (Portland, Oregon), Steve Kriss (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Heidi Regier Kreider (North Newton, Kansas), Sara Wenger Shenk (Elkhart, Indiana) and Terry Zehr (Lowville, New York) – will offer feedback and support the writing team in their work throughout the biennium.
In the next phase of Journey Forward, MC USA is partnering with area conferences and other identified groups to host regional events and online forums to share and test the Journey Forward identity document.
The writers and reference council will also create a Pathways study guide that will be ready for distribution to every MC USA congregation in April 2018. Pathways will ground the Journey Forward process in scripture and prayer, and will engage congregations in the work of discerning the identity document and providing feedback.
Based on churchwide feedback, the writing team will continue to update the Journey Forward document in preparation for the 2019 Delegate Assembly in Kansas City.
“There is something unique about our understanding of what it means to be the church, and it’s not because we all come from the same backgrounds” said Bixler. “God’s Spirit is drawing us together.”
Stay updated on Journey Forward news at mennoniteusa.org.