By Heidi Regier Kreider
Held Together in Mission has been WDC’s theme for 2016. We have explored this theme in our annual assembly, and two reference council gatherings focused on being the church in rural and urban contexts. What have we been learning from these experiences? Here are three observations:
- We have been enriched and enlightened through testimonies and stories shared by individuals from a wide range of perspectives: Church planters and pastors with life experience in places as far away as Myanmar (Burma) and Honduras, and as close as Houston, Austin, Dallas, Turpin, Topeka, Moundridge, and Beatrice; farm families modeling sustainable and generous living; business persons, advocates for peace and justice, food-bank volunteers, writers, musicians, and many more. These stories reflect an interweaving of personal vocation and congregational mission. They encourage us to be intentional in discovering how God uses our gifts, experiences and skills within our particular congregation and community. Marty Troyer’s sermon at annual assembly and his new book The Gospel Next Door is a good resource to inspire us in this effort.
- Our stereotypes have been challenged: For example, there is the assumption that cities are full of diversity and opportunity, and that rural communities are homogeneous and isolated. In fact, we have heard that both cities and rural communities are increasingly impacted by ethnic, religious and economic diversity; poverty exists in rural areas and small towns, even as it does in the city; in the midst of diversity, urban congregations may cluster around affiliation with others of similar culture and background; and electronic communications connect both urban and rural people to global realities beyond their local geography. Another example is the perception that traditional Anglo rural churches are facing inevitable decline, and that church planting and evangelism is only meant for other ethnic populations in the cities. In fact, there are many examples of creative mission and vital ministry within our rural churches, and some people are asking, “When will we have church plants among Anglo communities?” In both rural and urban contexts people are thinking about the lifespan of church communities, looking for the best ways to begin, sustain, and revitalize congregations – and how to know when it is time to plan for a healthy ending or transition to something new.
- We have explored what it means to do “contextual theology,” seeking to understand how God is working in different ways in our congregations and communities. At the same time, this prompts us to consider whether our structures and relationships reflect this understanding. Sometimes congregations in WDC may feel “on the margins” or distant from the so-called “center” of Mennonite heritage in Kansas. On the other hand, longtime, traditional Mennonite congregations may get the message that they are out of touch with the urban settings where “real” mission is happening. I hope that our year of being “Held Together in Mission” will move all of us toward deeper affirmation and awareness that God is present in all places, working here and now, wherever we are.