by Kathy Neufeld Dunn, WDC Associate Conference Minister (KS-based)
“Music is the language of our hearts,” I read in Resonate, the new hymnal and worship resources sampler. It is “what brings us together in worship to honor God.” Marlene Kropf, retired Conference Minister of Spiritual Formation, put it even more simply. “[Music] is our most significant way of praying together” (The Mennonite, 9/1/10).
I reflected on this aspect of our shared spirituality and identity throughout this past weekend at our Annual Assembly as we celebrated 125 years of Western District Conference history and faith. Friday evening we sang “This Is the Day” in three languages—Spanish, English and Garifuna, an indigenous language spoken on Belize and other Caribbean islands. Why were we singing our prayers in this language? We invited brothers and sisters of our newest church plant in Houston, a Garifuna group, to lead us in worship. They also led us in unfamiliar tunes in a tongue few of us spoke, yet it was clear that we were all reaching out to God in prayer through song. Sunday morning was filled with hymns mostly in English that were enriched by four-part harmonies. Both were rich, bittersweet times of prayer and worship for me.
During communion on Friday night, I found myself in prayer and contemplation. Jesus “emptied” and “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death,” as we read in Philippians 2. As we are obedient to God’s call to preach the gospel and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19), of what will we be called to humbly empty ourselves, individually and as a people? Will we European-Americans be called to lay aside some of our treasured ways of being church together? Will vibrant worship include less four-part, harmonic sung prayer as we make space for other ethnic and cultural traditions? Will we allow some of our understandings of scripture to be transformed by the experiences and interpretations of sisters and brothers who join us from other parts of the globe? What will pastoral leadership look and sound like in flourishing congregations? What will conference leadership look like? What will mission sound like in five, ten, or twenty-five years in Western District Conference? What other parts of church life will we lay aside and what will we retain as we joyously and faithfully follow Jesus in the 21st Century?
No matter the tunes, no matter the tongues we sing them in, I am assured that we, the members of the churches of Western District Conference, will still be singing our prayers decades and perhaps centuries from now. We will be singing our prayers to the One who has led us in the past, is sustaining us in uncertain times now, and will continue to faithfully guide us into a future where we continue to proclaim Jesus as Lord. Alleluia!