The strange thing about saying I am “still a Mennonite” is that I haven’t officially been a Mennonite all that long. For my first three years of life, I attended a Mennonite church. After that, my family lived outside of Mennonite enclaves. We were generally Anabaptist in orientation at home, but on Sunday we were just plain Baptist.
By the time we moved to Elkhart, Ind. when I was 15, I felt detached from the Mennonite world and didn’t regard it as a priority to attend a Mennonite Church. My older brother and I began attending a Missionary Church. I continued there for 11 years, through college at Goshen, and during my time at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. Through higher education, I did discover a deep resonance with Mennonite theology. And yet education and personal theology did not really make me Mennonite. I had not committed myself to a local body of believers.
My baptism at age 13 did not entail church membership. For theological reasons, I never became a member of my Missionary church. So by the time I finished seminary, I was neither a Mennonite nor a member of any church. My identity was finally solidified within community when I became the Associate Pastor at Hyattsville Mennonite Church, just outside of Washington, DC. In fact, I was licensed as pastor a full week before officially joining the church.
My choice of a Mennonite identity was by no means inevitable. I was not nurtured (or indoctrinated) through Mennonite Youth Fellowship. Even Mennonite higher education couldn’t shake the hold of another church, although it ultimately led me to ministry within MCUSA. I am Mennonite, first and foremost, by conviction and choice. I have (finally!) committed myself to a local body of believers; I have also committed myself to a conference and MCUSA as a denomination through the process of credentialing.
And so the answer to the question, “Why am I still a Mennonite,” is that I’ve only really been a Mennonite for three years! I have chosen to be Mennonite because of my convictions about what God is doing in the world. Through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God is bringing about a new creation, and we as Christians take part in that work. Mennonites articulate and live out this work in a way that I have not seen in any other faith tradition.
There are substantial issues that make my relationship to MCUSA tenuous. The minute I became an official Mennonite (and as a credentialed minister, I even have a card to prove it), I also became a marginal Mennonite. My conference placed my congregation “under discipline” several years ago for a long-standing practice of welcoming members upon confession of faith without regard to sexual orientation. By accepting their call, I also accepted the discipline.
I take comfort in the fact that growth occurs at margins; creativity flourishes and new ways of understanding emerge. At the same time, growing edges need to be fed and maintained by a healthy core. I wish that more of the church would have the opportunity to see God’s work of new creation as I do—alive, active, expansive, and inclusive, at the urban edge of the Mennonite world. I worry that we might be pruned away—that the denomination will lose the gifts that we bring, and that we will lose our connection to the denomination’s deep, strong roots. Ω
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