By Dick Barrett
I have now completed two months as Conference Minister, working one to two days a week until beginning full-time on Jan. 1. I have participated in the four cluster meetings across the Conference, the congregational leadership team retreat in Bellville, the Mennonite Church USA Constituency Leaders Council meeting in Chicago, a day-long pastors and credentialed ministers gathering and several other Conference and congregational events across the Conference. I am very hopeful by what I have observed.
We have come through some difficult times as a Conference, with a lot of conflict and dissension where we have seen several congregations leave to affiliate with other Anabaptist or Mennonite denominations. Most of our congregations are smaller in size today than they were just a few years ago. We find ourselves in a culture that is highly suspicious of the organized church, often for good reasons. We have not always looked like or acted like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
But God is present, and God works not only in those times when things seem to be going well. God is also present and working in the midst of conflict and struggle. In fact, that is where God does some of his best work. God often has to do pruning to allow things to become healthier. Bigger is not always better. The changes that have taken place over the past several years have caused us to examine our identity as an Anabaptist people, to focus on those things that are most important to our faith, and to explore what it means to be missional in our own settings.
We have rallied around the “Gathered and Sent” initiative, reminding us that we are both a called people, called to be a community of brothers and sisters in Christ, and a sent people, sent to go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in words and actions in our own communities and around the world. What was most exciting about attending the four cluster meetings across the Conference was hearing the many different stories from all the congregations on how they are living out their lives as a people dedicated to worship of, faith in, and witness for Jesus Christ. It was impossible to hear all the stories and not get excited about what God is doing in Ohio Conference and to be hopeful for what lies ahead.
Over the past two months I have met and observed the many different people across Conference who God has blessed us with, their many different gifts, and their passion for wanting to be faithful to who God has called us to be as Anabaptist congregations working together. It is hard to see all the new people who have come into Conference over the past several years and not be hopeful.
Does this mean there won’t be challenges ahead? No. Just as God has allowed us to work through our most recent challenges, he will lead us through more challenges to continually transform us into the people he wants us to be.
As we enter into this special time of year in which we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, may we pause and be thankful for all the blessings God has given us as individuals, families, congregations and as a conference. May we be especially thankful for the gift that God has offered us and the world in his Son, Jesus Christ — his birth, his life, his death and his resurrection. May we be hopeful as we approach a new year that God will be able to bring to completion the good work that he has begun in us in Christ Jesus.