So when I arrived in the hall for the opening worship service on Monday evening, I was surprised to discover that hymns did not form the backbone of the singing. As the week progressed, it appeared that in fact hymns would take a backseat in the adult worship services for the duration. I was disappointed, a little confused, and as Betsy Headrick McCrae noted in her story Wednesday afternoon, thrown off-balance. I didn’t know the songs the worship band led. I missed the hymns I had grown up singing and come to love. Wasn’t this the Mennonite convention, after all? Weren’t hymns and four part harmony our bread and butter? I heard a similar sentiment echoed frequently throughout the week. Where had the hymns gone?
But one day during the adult worship, as the band from Calvary Community Church led us in song, I noticed a middle-aged black woman standing a few rows ahead of me. She had her head tilted back, face raised, and was swaying and clapping along with the music. I wondered how many conventions and how many church services she had previously sat through, feeling as I now did– disconnected and a bit out of my element. But today it was her turn to worship in a style familiar and nurturing to her. So this music IS Mennonite music. The middle-aged woman, a Mennonite, sings and worships to music that feeds her. It’s not familiar territory to me, but I do not have a monopoly on Mennonite culture. Being a multi-cultural church means, for white “ethnic” Mennonites, that sometimes we have to take a step back and be willing to hear and engage other expressions of worship. Sometimes the feeling of losing our balance is a gift that teaches us to walk more gently. And perhaps, after generations of hymns, one week of stepping outside our comfort zones in worship is not too much to ask.
Another moment of insight occurred during a seminar about a California Mennonite congregation embracing multiculturalism. A Latino brother from Virginia who pastors a Mennonite church there asked an important question– “Are we trying to make brothers and sisters in Christ, or are we trying to make traditional Mennonites?” Are we big enough, do we trust God’s love and grace enough, to allow our corporate body to grow and embrace new traditions and styles of worship? Or do we make acceptance conditional, contingent upon adopting not simply Anabaptist theology but also Anglo culture?
The insidious thing about white privilege is that it’s so hard for white people to see. For me, this week, singing hymns all week long would have been a privilege. It was one that I expected to be granted. I assumed that my culture’s preference in worship styles would again be the norm. Had we sung hymns all week, I may not have even recognized it for the privilege it would have been. But this week I was given another opportunity– the opportunity to see my own white privilege for what it was and learn more about what it feels like to be in less familiar territory.
Insight, as is so often the case, came gradually, and was aided by plenty of verbal processing with good friends. This is not to say that my understanding is now complete, only that I’m farther along on my journey as a white anti-racist than I was one week ago.
May the God of grace bless us as we continue to learn how to love each other.
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