By Ken Gingerich, MSMC Moderator
MSMC leaders gathered at First Mennonite Church, Denver, in February for an “encampment” on our Journey Forward. One of the purposes of the gathering was to begin to refocus on a common sense of direction or identity.
We recognized and named the many changes we’ve experienced in the past few years.
We reflected on common areas of mission, values and identity that we share with the larger Mennonite Church USA.
- Jesus as the center of our faith
- Mennonite/Anabaptist Identity
- Peacemaking and Justice
- A strong sense of community
- A desire for reconciliation
- A desire to be faithful
We also named some challenges we shared as part of that larger identity.
- Music: hymnal/traditional vs. ethnic/generational worship and issues of inclusion and exclusion
- We still struggle with the DNA (cultural Mennonite) “pedigree” issue
- We are strongly Anglo and “privileged”—an issue that remains largely static after years of work
We identified some characteristics that seem somewhat more specific to Mountain States Conference.
- We have a high tolerance for innovation and risk-taking
- We tolerate and even encourage prophetic “troublemakers” that challenge the status quo: (LGBTQ inclusion, immigration, homeless, environmental and peacemaking advocacy)
- We are the youngest (newest) MC USA conference
- We claim our mountain west character—a strong sense of place with appreciation for nature/outdoors/mountains/prairies, etc.
- We give very high value to local/congregational autonomy around issues of leadership discernment and other decisions
We also named “assets” or resources at our disposal.
- We’ve been gifted with a significant group of new (some younger) pastors—many who have come into an Anabaptist view of faith from other traditions
- SEED committee is available to help “Seek, Explore, Encourage and Develop church vitality and new initiatives”
- Passion ministries; (TiLT, RawTools, Casa de Paz, Beloved Community Village, etc.)
- Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp
- We are working to listen to those in the cultural, racial and economic margins
- We have a theology and praxis that is attractive (we are becoming a landing place for folks coming from more traditional or evangelical experiences—who are looking for a faith community that is less prescriptive and more inclusive—but also Jesus/biblically focused)
- We are comfortable with some ambiguity around problems and challenges that don’t lend themselves to easy solutions
- We have the potential of our relationship with the Mexico City Mennonite Conference (CIEAMM) and the presence of Fernando and Rebeca to help us move toward a more intercultural way of experiencing congregational and conference life.
- We have a modestly healthy endowment fund and some physical assets
There was also a vigorous conversation around the idea of “compost” as an asset. What do the experiences of our recent challenges mean? We have been trimmed back a bit—and the debris is creating some new “soil.” How do we nurture healthy relationships, despite differences, to inform an emerging sense of identity? New life requires nourishment that comes from enriched soil.
The Bible is replete with stories of loss and renewal as God’s people focus on following the call of the Spirit into unexplored territory. It requires honesty with ourselves and full trust in God. It’s a never-ending cycle.
We continue on our journey.