A Hiking Club for Jesus

By Amy Zimbelman, Conference Minister

The following is a mini-sermon Amy shared during the delegate meeting called to affirm her as Conference Minister. She responded to five questions submitted by the delegates and then closed with this mini-sermon.

These last two questions that delegates asked me have an underlying theme that I want to address as you wonder what type of leader I’ll be.

And that is the question of: do we make clear lines of insiders and outsiders, and do we abandon each other when we have honest disagreements?

Here’s what I think: Jesus is at the center. That’s the direction we Anabaptists are unapologetically walking towards. Each one of us is on different points of that journey, some closer, some farther, but we’re doing our best to head in that direction.

We’re not in the business of exclusion. We’re not creating clear lines of insiders and outsiders as a church. That dogmatic way of thinking is not how we roll—we’ve seen in Anabaptist history how many Anabaptists were massacred because they wouldn’t sign on to certain beliefs, like infant baptism. We’re not an exclusionary people who use violent tactics of insiders and outsiders and then massacre those who don’t agree with us.

BUT we are headed in a clear direction. Towards Jesus. We’re walkers, sojourners, hikers (because of this part of the country) moving towards Jesus. That means that if you even desire to head towards Jesus, you will fit in in the culture of our churches and of our conference. If you even want to point that direction, that’s enough to be part of our community.

How do we do this walking towards Jesus? Peace and nonviolence are our methods, the vehicle for this hard and beautiful journey—the shoes we’re wearing on our feet as we walk towards Jesus. Ephesians 6:15 says, “Your feet are fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” And the clothes we wear—the shirt on our back, is righteousness and justice. And the belt holding up our pants is truth because it’s gonna be embarrassing if we have a belt of lies (your pants could easily fall down). The hat on our head hiding our bad hair day is salvation—or whatever other name you have for it: shalom, wholeness, liberation. The sunscreen that covers us and protects our whole body is our faith. And the tool that we hold in our hands to love others better (not to hit each other over the head with) is scripture.

That’s what we look like as we’re hiking on this journey. If someone comes into our communities with violence guiding their steps rather than peace, if they’ve had one of those Lie Belts marketed to them, if the tool they’re wielding is Mine Kampf rather than the Bible, they too are welcome. However, they will find that they do not fit in in our culture. We are unapologetically wearing this outfit and moving towards Jesus, towards life together in the society of Heaven. Tactics of hate and lies and exclusion and violence—those tactics find they have no traction in our communities.

But the beautiful thing is that Heaven has a way of reaching in, infiltrating, changing people. So even the person wielding Mine Kampf is worthy of love and worthy of being invited to point towards Jesus.

We are on this journey together, in Anabaptist community. We are a hiking club. This means that we don’t abandon each other; we wait up for the slowest person.

I choose intentionally to stay in relationship as much as I can with people who don’t think women should be in ministry, or my Catholic friends who are part of systems that don’t think women should be in ministry. I choose intentionally to stay in relationship with people who disagree with me politically as well. Because how are we going to learn from each other without relationship, if they don’t know any women in ministry?

Will I be criticized for this way of looking at our spiritual journey? Of course. Some will say I’m not enough of an activist, that I’m too pastoral—why don’t I have clearer insiders and outsiders? Others will say I’m too challenging to the church, that I should avoid talking about controversial topics entirely. I figure if I get critiques on both sides then I’m probably in the right place.

That’s my vision of where we’re headed, what clothes we’re putting on each day, and what we do when we disagree on how to get there.

But I want to close my time with one question for you: if you give me this job, will you pray for me? At the end of that Ephesians passage it says: “Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” I’m asking you very seriously: please will you pray for me in this work, because while it is joyful work, there are days then it will be very hard work, and I will need your prayer. And in exchange, you can know that I will be praying for you.