While at the annual gathering of conference ministers from Mennonite Church USA and area ministers from Mennonite Church Canada, I have been reflecting on the future of our respective churches. Nancy Kauffmann and Karen Martens Zimmerly (respective denominational ministers for MC USA and MC Canada) are pictured here leading one of our discussion times. It is clear that our respective conferences and national churches have capable and dedicated leadership. But all of us find ourselves in a sea of change within the contexts in which we serve. As we navigate these challenging waters, it is not clear what the future holds. This became especially clear as the respective executive leaders of MC Canada and MC USA (Willard Metzger and Ervin Stutzman, pictured below) gave a fireside chat in which they were asked to share what gave them pause and what gave them hope.
As we consider how to lead our respective congregational systems, an emerging thought began to take shape in my mind. It is entirely possible that the world as we know it is coming to an end. Initially that raises some anxiety within us. We ponder how we can tweak our current systems in ways that will not change us too much, possibly enabling us to continue down the current paths. Yet there is a nagging awareness within that this may not be sufficient to “correct” the “problems” we see before us. Could it be that the world as we know it is coming to an end?
But that does not mean the world is coming to an end. It simply means that the familiar world in which we currently live may no longer be the world into which we are asked to live out our faithful response.
In some ways it may be necessary for us to assume some of the same responsibilities that the early church embraced in situations such as were presented to them in Acts 15. The church needed to determine what were necessary practices for this new, emerging body of faith, and what might no longer be requirements for faithfulness. The decisions that group were led by the Holy Spirit to make and implement took the developing faith community in a direction that was significantly different from the one their spiritual forebears had followed, especially with respect to the requirement of circumcision. The faith world as they had known it was coming to an end, yet the world of faith itself did not end.
As we find ourselves entering another Advent season, I wonder how this season’s coming of Jesus into our world and into our lives will change us. Are we being asked to consider shedding some part of the past that we have treasured deeply? To be sure, the faith community that went forth from Jerusalem in Acts 15 still had significant understandings to which they held. There was some continuity with the past. Their world did not end. And neither will ours. That is the hope and promise of God’s coming into the world in the Incarnation.
Just as that first dawning of God’s reign represented in the birth of our Savior arrived with trepidation and a significant amount of unknowns, just as the decision made by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 led the fledgling church on a path that could not be fully predicted at its outset, so may God’s Spirit be calling our church today to embark upon a journey that is not fully known at its outset. But our destination is not in doubt. For we know the One who is leading us. And that is Good News indeed!