Over the next few months we’ve invited folks from across Mennonite Church USA to reflect on our Journey Forward and consider how they’ve seen Renewed Commitments at work in their lives, their congregation or community. If you’d like to contribute to this series by highlighting stories that bring our shared values to life, email JenniferC@MennoniteUSA.org.
Talashia Keim Yoder is a pastor at College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana. She is passionate about family ministry and about stepping into and claiming the Biblical story. She also serves as theater director at Bethany Christian Schools. She and her husband Daniel, also a pastor, have two young children.
The face of Mennonite Church USA is changing. In the future, we will be more diverse, united by a shared desire to follow Jesus and dwell in community rather than by last names and family history.
My congregation, College Mennonite Church, is beginning to see this shift in our younger generation. Our young families come from diverse backgrounds, many not raised in the Mennonite tradition. They are drawn to our church by the shared value articulated in MC USA’s renewed commitment: “As an Anabaptist community of the living Word, we listen for God’s call as we read Scripture together, guided by the Spirit.”
As we continue to receive more members who did not grow up immersed in Anabaptist theology, we recognize an opportunity for all of us to look at our faith with fresh eyes. What really drew these radicals together hundreds of years ago? Why did they risk everything for this faith? What gave them the strength to continue in the face of persecution? We can confidently say it wasn’t all for a shared ethnic food or a certain way of singing. So what was it?
In August, our whole congregation will participate in exploring some basics of Anabaptist faith, including being guided by the Spirit, following Jesus, living in community, and practicing peace and reconciliation.
We will tell stories of those early Anabaptists, but our aim is not to glorify our past. Instead, we seek to recognize that we are part of a broader Christian stream, and that we bring our own particular gifts to that broad stream.
We also are looking at particular practices of the early Anabaptists and wondering how these might shape our practices in the here and now. One in particular is the idea of “remembered word.” In a community where many didn’t own Bibles, what did this actually look like? And how do we practice it? When we can pull up five versions of the Bible at the touch of an app, is this even relevant for us? How is the “remembered word” different from the “memorized word?” And what do both have to do with the “living word?”
Another question is about giving and receiving counsel, an accountability that Mennonites have historically committed to in becoming members of a congregation. We know this has long been a part of Anabaptist faith communities, but what does it actually mean? Particularly in today’s culture, this is a difficult thing to live out, yet it remains a vow of baptism.
And what do these two things — the remembered word and giving and receiving counsel — have to do with one another?
I think that answering this question is simpler than we think. And, as is so often the case, children can help lead the way. The “Shine” Sunday school curriculum put out by MennoMedia is steeped in scripture. Each week, the children are stepping into the biblical story, as well as doing prayer practices and learning about peacemaking in the context of that story. There is a rhythm to their time together, which includes saying a scripture passage for several weeks in a row that ties all the stories of those weeks together. They explore the scripture and the stories together, through both hands-on means and through talking about them.
What happens when words of scripture are spoken each week, in a context that has meaning? Sure, the children memorize the scripture after so much repetition. But more than that, the words are remembered. What happens when children explore the story together? They give and receive counsel. The story becomes relevant to their lives and they help each other know how to live it out. And this is all possible because they are in community with each other, guided by the Holy Spirit. As a parent, I see the fruits of what happens in Sunday school. I see it when scripture is appropriately quoted to help guide a situation, and I see it when the stories of the Bible change my children’s choices in their relationships with others.
We have decided to allow this structure to inform our practices of remembered word and giving and receiving counsel. Using “Take Our Moments and Our Days” (another great resource!) as inspiration, we will repeat scripture together from week to week in our worship services during August. We will also dig deeper into scripture together and use Sunday school time to explore it. And through it, I believe we will understand more what it means to be “an Anabaptist community of the living Word, listening for God’s call as we read Scripture together, guided by the Spirit.”
The new and diverse people who are Mennonite Church USA are going to challenge people like me and give us the opportunity to look anew at who we are, at how we practice being an Anabaptist community. This is a gift.
All congregations are invited to use Journey Forward’s “Pathways” study guide. Find it and all Journey Forward updates here.
Your financial support of MC USA helps us equip leaders and tell stories of Anabaptist faith in action across the church. Donate to MC USA here.