For the last few months I haven’t been as active on Young Anabaptist Radicals as usual. Aside from my normal work doing web design and work for Christian Peacemaker Teams, I took a class on Anabaptist History and Theology. I’ve also been part of organizing a gathering in conjunction with the US Social Forum in Detroit. It’s called Becoming Undone: a gathering of Christians drawn to Anabaptism and the continuing work of Undoing Opressions. Follow the link for more details. There’s still room if you register now!
I’ve also been very involved in a movement called Spark Renewal.
For many years, I’ve been fascinated (and disturbed) by the way that institutions tend to drift away from their original mission and towards self-preservation. I started writing about it in back in 2004, but the decision by Goshen College to start playing the anthem got me thinking about it a lot more. Around the same time friends started sharing their concerns and frustrations with the “Joining Together” campaign to build a new Mennonite Church office building on the campus of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries. I started noticing some of the connections between the different issues. In all these situations it seemed like institutional reasoning was central with other was of thinking and being revolving around bureaucracy.
Spark Renewal was initially made up of people in Elkhart, so I joined in as I could by email and conversations on Skype. I was impressed how quickly the group organized itself using email and a wiki (an on-line collaboration tool for documents). It involved young and middle-aged folks, women and men and white people and people of color. There was also something different about their meetings. It wasn’t just a group of people sitting down to organize. When I listened to the recordings of meetings and heard the notes I heard prayer, worship, reflection. When I finally got to attend my first in person meeting, I discovered hula-hooping and singing were on the agenda as well. This was not a group that just gave lip service to being spirit led.
As I was drawn further into the energy and hope of Spark Renewal, I joined them for a meeting with with leaders of the “Joining Together” campaign (the meeting I alluded to http://www.themennonite.org/bloggers/timjn/posts/Are_we_building_for_the_future_of_the_church_or_the_bureaucracy_Part_1“>in this post). Again, I was struck with the vision of institutional vehicle focused more on its own maintenance then its mission. I was also aware of how difficult it is to challenge that vehicle. Dissent can so easily be dismissed or marginalized by those in the center of institutions. Which is why I have been so amazed by the resiliency and energy of Spark Renewal. Again and again they have been told to give up in the face of the inevitable.
Yet the movement has steadily grown and blossomed, with dozens of people coming out of the wood work to share about their own experiences of frustration and hurt caused by the “Joining Together” process. Listening and watching to the stories flow, both publicly and privately, has deepened my commitment to this movement. Joining together for the future of the Mennonite church means listening to the voices on the margins, and not just those in the center. For me, that’s what it means to be the body of Christ.
As the Mennonite Church Executive Board meets this coming weekend, I pray that they will listen to this river of stories and decide to pause this process and take time to reflect, heal and change.