On Oct. 14-16 Ohio Conference representatives once again attended the twice-yearly Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) meetings. Sherah-Leigh Gerber is part of the worship team this biennium that helps to lead these meetings of the 21 area conferences, agencies of Mennonite Church USA and the constituency groups of Mennonite Church USA. Here you see her as the worship team leads the group in song. Also pictured are Larry Diener (Southeast Conference) at the piano and Herm Weaver (Mountain States Conference) on the guitar.
Baby Titus joined Sherah-Leigh at this meeting. He had many willing arms to hold him during the 2.5 days we met. Several times I reflected that this was a good introduction for a newcomer to what the church is called to be, whether or not he will remember it.
When I think about the CLC, I find it to be one of the more inspirational aspects of the church. At the time our two Mennonite groups decided to join together in 2001, this organization was created as a place where all aspects of the church could be together to discuss and discern important aspects of the church. It was not to be a decision-making body, but rather a deliberative one that would make recommendations to the Executive Board. In this way all parts of the church could be present and participate without wondering if they had a strong enough “voice” or “vote” to sway the decision-making process their particular way.
The first meetings were tentative, with some hesitant beginnings as we came to know other parts of the church with which we were less familiar. We were able to move beyond stereotypes of “that conference” or “that agency” to see genuine human beings who had similar desires and passions as ours. Of course we did not all see everything the same way. But we each had a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation. Gradually we began to trust one another more deeply. We understood that everyone came with the best interest of the entire church in mind, even though we approached that same goal from differing perspectives and practices.
There have been difficult conversations and painful exercises, as some whose voices have been muffled in the past were able to speak honestly and candidly. We sometimes take two steps forward and then one faltering one backward. But the refreshing thing to me is that everyone still keeps coming and participating. Trust keeps building, and our commitment to one another grows even though we still have our differences.
It is this steadfast commitment to participate, to speak and to listen, which heartens me. As long as we can all assemble at the table and have opportunity to share and to receive from one another, I believe we will find our way — together — along the righteous road that leads to that Kingdom that we are all seeking. What better place than in such a setting to introduce a baby to what the church both is and is becoming! May we all be introduced to such experiences as we embody the church in its many variations.