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.
Chris Barghout is a member of Portland Mennonite Church. He is a first generation American from Swiss Mennonite and Palestinian roots.
Pop the champagne! It’s what you might hear when a long or not so long married couple decide to celebrate by renewing their commitments to each other. Every couple has its ups and downs but any relationship worth renewing is filled with joy and giddy with excitement at future adventures with their beloved.
According to our Confessions of Faith, as Mennonites it is our ideal that church is “the new community of disciples sent into the world to proclaim the reign of God and to provide a foretaste of the church’s glorious hope.” Well, where’s the party?
Last summer, Portland Mennonite Church (PMC) was the first Mennonite church I had ever stepped into. Like any new prospective member, I needed to know what journey the church was on, and would the commitments and community be somewhere where I could give of my time, energies and resources? So far so good you may be thinking but the Journey Forward asks us to reveal God’s beauty by embracing diversity. I am a very happily married gay man and my husband Michael and I have been together for 15 years but only legally married for four. I also walk in the door as the son of a Palestinian refugee. And just for added interest, my mom was from Canton Zurich where my Anabaptist family has been keeping the faith since the beginning of the reformation. As a Gay Arab, I was raised away from any Mennonite church, but in a way where Mennonite Church USA might not be Mennonite enough!
At my first service at PMC, I intended to sit near the back in case the service was not my thing, and I could make a quick get-away. It was packed with many young folks, and I actually ended up sitting in the back because those were the only seats left. I was a bit apprehensive, as a full church is usually a red flag for me — music too loud for my taste and a theology I don’t embrace. But I noted: no super-size video screen. Check. I took a look at the order of service: hymns and more hymns. I’m used to three, maybe four, but at PMC that day, they had eight. I used to sing in a choir for 10 years. I thought to myself, “I hope these folks can sing.”
PMC, I found, is a progressive and intensely happy Christ-centered church that actively lives out its calling as a foretaste of glorious hope in everything it does. Mennonite Church USA is looking for examples of fellowship that maintain Mennonite distinctiveness yet are thriving.
Churches such as PMC integrate a Christian vision that can be both traditional and modern and have leadership and membership that naturally gravitate to strong commitments and like a happy married couple, understand that bumps and hiccups are a normal part of the experience of a journey forward.
What is going on at PMC that is defying the normative declining church in the United States and what do I see as things other churches can do?
- Church as a foretaste of God’s hope, is lovingly practiced. It’s in everything the church does.
- All churches should have people who identify and welcome newcomers. In a happy church, everyone does it because they want to. People who are outside the Mennonite niche, are seen as part of God’s diversity and beauty.
- Excellent preaching. The message is Christian, it comes from a Mennonite perspective. Humor, intellect and God’s love are always present.
- Everything is done with attention to detail. I do mean everything. Sermons, greetings, the website, education, the coffee, knowing and caring about each other.
- If you want young families, give them a Sunday school that is exceptional and woven into the basic fabric of the church.
- Be it missions, the homeless, hunger, refugees, a listening heart, there is joy in being part of the community, and this joy makes one want to be in greater service.
Through our faith and our fruits of service, Mennonites are vital members of the broader Christian community. Let us remember with joy our relationship to our churches; and pop the champagne as we renew our commitments.
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.