Mid-States conference ministers and conference moderators met together in August. Pictured from left to right are Lois Johns Kaufmann, conference minister for Central District; Matthew Hickman, vice moderator for Illinois Conference; Emma Hartman, administrator for Central District (and secretary for the group); Ron Guengerich, president of Central District; Jane Stoltzfus Buller, moderator for Indiana-Michigan Conference; Tom Kauffman, conference minister for Ohio Conference; Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, associate dean for Leadership Education at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary; and Dean Beck, moderator for Ohio Conference. Photo by Chuck Neufeld, conference minister for Illinois Conference.
One of the meetings I attended at the end of August was the semi-annual gathering of the conference ministers and moderators/presidents of the four conferences in the Mid-States Region. We gather to share best practices and discuss if there are projects or initiatives that we could work together on in ways that are mutually beneficial. One of the latter ideas we discussed was a website that each of us could link to that would have all the resources we are collectively aware of or using with respect to the denomination’s Purposeful Plan. Stay tuned for further developments on that!
We did spend some time discussing the task of the church (whether it be local, conference-wide, or denominational) in a more generic sense. That conversation stirred some passion within us. Chuck Neufeld, Conference Minister from Illinois Mennonite Conference, gave us a language to frame part of that conversation. I’d like to share that with you.
As all of our respective conferences work at answering the question, “What is it that connects us?” he offered the helpful phrasing of our task as “re-membering” who we are in God’s plan rather than “dis-membering” one another over our perceived or real differences.
What went unspoken in our discussion, but needs to be acknowledged is that God appears to enjoy diversity. There is a staggering array of diversity in creation — whether it be the amazing number of different kinds of trees, flowers, grains, insects, birds, beasts, or any other category of creation one can name, or the diversity within the human race. All of these are examples of the richness of God’s diverse creation. And Jesus, unlike most of the rabbis of his day, selected his own disciples. That group was a diverse collection of persons who ordinarily might not have been expected to assemble or get along with one another. And there were those occasions when Jesus did have to remind them they were part of one body!
At the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry he prays (in John 17) “that they may all be one…that they may become completely one.” Many years ago I preached a sermon at Annual Conference Assembly referencing this text, suggesting that the unity of the church is a gift that has been given to us (and prayed over us by Jesus) rather than a condition that we are to attempt to achieve. Our task is to embody that unity, to “re-member” it rather than to engage in activities that “dis-member” it. I still believe that to be true.
As we sought to do in our conversation with our brothers and sisters in our neighboring conferences, I encourage each one of us to think about how we “re-member” our connectedness to Jesus on a personal basis, in our families, in our faith communities, and in our associations as faith communities. At the same time, we ought to examine in our desire to be faithful and true to our Lord for the ways, either intended or unintended, that our words and actions functionally “dis-member” the body.
Could it be that the Lord is tarrying, patiently waiting for us to get this “re-membering” process more fully integrated into our lives, as well as releasing our tendencies to “dis-member” the body? May Jesus’ prayer as recorded in John 17 become ours “so that the world may believe.” AMEN!