by Heidi Regier Kreider, WDC Conference Minister

I enjoyed gathering at WDC’s annual assembly with many of you this past weekend!  In my report during the delegate meeting, I noted that I often pray for WDC congregations as I travel across WDC geography.  To pray in this way helps me to entrust WDC to God and to “get on the balcony” to see how each part fits into the whole of WDC.  Of course, while driving I pray with my eyes open – not only to see the road, but also metaphorically to see what is happening in WDC.  My report at assembly listed some things that I see, and I will share these same observations in this article:

1.      Congregations are participating in WDC’s Year of Evangelism, sponsored by the Resource Commission.  24 congregations sent members to the launch event in January, Mustard Seed grants are encouraging witness beyond our church walls, and another event will take place Oct 26-27 in Dallas, TX, focusing on Testimony.   The Year of Evangelism challenges us to articulate Jesus’ good news in a world where the gospel has often been distorted.  It is an opportunity to express the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection through words, deeds and relationships with our neighbors.

2.      Pastoral transition is happening in nearly 1/5 of our congregations. WDC staff and Ministerial Leadership Commission provide guidance to appoint interim and transitional leadership, and call and credential new pastors; and offer resources for continuing education, pastor-congregation reviews and discernment, accountability and support for ministers.

3.      Congregations desire to strengthen a witness as Anabaptist peace churches – both through church planting and renewed vitality within existing churches.  The Church Planting Commission continues to explore how best to support church planters, create partnerships between existing and emerging churches, and nurture thriving and sustainable congregations – both new and old.  God is at work, touching lives and opening doors, inviting us to new adventures in faithfulness.

4.      People respond generously when there is clear need and purpose. After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, members of WDC graciously shared volunteer time, compassion, prayers and financial support.  Over $22,000 was contributed to WDC, and distributed to WDC congregations in the Houston area to share with neighbors and members.  The Stewardship Commission encourages this spirit of caring, connecting and generosity to support both special projects and the ongoing mission of WDC and its congregations.

5.      Congregations are engaged with immigrant and refugee concerns, responding to the threat of detention, deportation or separation of family members.  Some congregations are offering sanctuary to immigrants and refugees, or hosting “know your rights” training and educational events. The WDC Immigration Task Force helps to network, support and resource congregations, and I joined several others from WDC traveled on a faith leaders’ delegation to Washington, DC, to advocate for just immigration policies.  This concern will continue to be important in WDC, as Christ calls us to recognize his presence in the immigrant, neighbor and stranger.

6.      Congregations are energized by current building and renovation projects such as a new sanctuary or fellowship hall, an elevator, memory gardens, a prayer labyrinth, installing showers or a handicapped restroom, and more.  The most important thing, of course, is not the physical construction of these facilities, but the mission they represent:  Hosting community groups, meals and children’s activities; access for people with disabilities; new forms of worship, prayer, and remembrance; hospitality and sanctuary.  The body of Christ is not a building – yet I pray these improvements will enable the church to more faithfully embody the good news of the gospel.

7.      Congregations and leaders seek resources for prevention of and response to sexual abuse.  Healthy Boundaries training for credentialed leaders in WDC took place this past year in both Kansas and Texas, and we are exploring resources developed by Mennonite Church USA to respond to sexual abuse by non-credentialed individuals. WDC seeks to assist congregations to provide safe and supportive environments for those who are vulnerable or survivors of sexual abuse, and to provide resources and encouragement for leaders to address the complex issues surrounding sexual abuse.

8.      WDC is a mosaic of cultural and language diversity.  As a recent initiative to better serve the whole conference, the WDC Resource Library established a Spanish-language library branch in Texas.  And last year WDC received a grant for a Language Interpretation Ministry Team.  Our goal is to establish a team of persons who will receive honorariums to provide language interpretation for conference events and meetings, so that people who speak languages other than English may participate in-person or via electronic technology.  We invite individuals from different parts of the conference who are interested in this to contact the WDC office.  Linda Shelly, an experienced interpreter, has graciously agreed to be a resource person to offer assessment and orientation for those who want to explore this opportunity or develop their skills as an interpreter.

9.      WDC exists not in isolation but as a conference of Mennonite Church USA. Congregations support workers serving with Mennonite Mission Network and students attending Mennonite colleges, use Corinthian Plan for pastors’ health insurance, denominational curriculum and hymnal resources, and much more.  WDC sends representatives to MC USA Constituency Leaders Council, and our staff have intersected with denominational activities in significant ways this past year: Attending Gathering Live for youth leaders; coordinating a visit by the MC USA hymnal project committee to encounter cultural/worship diversity in WDC; attending the SENT church planting conference; meeting with other conference ministers to discuss credentialing practices; joining faith leaders’ delegations to Washington, DC, to advocate for just policies on immigration and  Israel/Palestine; and serving on the Journey Forward reference council.  With leadership changes and ongoing discernment of vision, it seems that area conferences will continue to take a prominent role in our denomination. WDC has many resources to share and much to learn from sisters and brothers across the church.

I give thanks for WDC, and I invite you to join me this coming year in praying regularly for the conference, its congregations and ministries, its members, leaders and staff.  What do we see as we pray for WDC, and envision it through God’s eyes?