This is part of a series of reflections on the Deep Faith/Pastors and Leaders 2020 conference held March 2-5, 2020 at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
Janette Lyndaker Gallagher is the pastor of Community Mennonite Fellowship in Corning, New York. She graduated with an MDiv from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in 2018. She is married and a parent and grandmother. Her family, including her family of origin, is her great source of joy! She is an enthusiastic Jesus-follower, totally dependent on the Spirit’s guidance in her life. She is convinced the message of Anabaptism is totally relevant for today and is blessed to serve in her pastoral role in an awesome Mennonite congregation.
I sang along with others gathered for worship during the recent joint conference of Pastors and Leaders 2020 and Deep Faith, “Shaping Faith in a Digital Culture.” Suddenly, I was jolted with the recognition that I had just sung words that matched the thoughts tumbling around in my head regarding expression of faith in a digital culture. The song was “This is a story full of love in Hymnal: A Worship Book.” The phrase that hit me were the words “web of love.”
A web, whether it is a spider’s web or a diagram illustrating the lines between items, is all about connection. A web is the picture of numerous paths connected together, with no part standing in isolation. It is not surprising, that during a conference on digital culture, I would be pondering webs.
The World Wide Web is a web of interconnection between people all over the globe. The web is a platform where information is disseminated, and where connections are formed. The web can be used in life-giving ways or in ways that erode humanity. The words of the song challenged me to think about whether I could use the web as a life-giving vehicle for connection and as a way to demonstrate God’s love.
Historically, many Mennonites preferred to remain outside the web of whatever was going on in the world. Perhaps some of this resistance is still present among us, and is now focused on the web, social media and other digital platforms. We may be a bit leery of engaging in online communication and suspicious of digital platforms, but the reality is that our world is getting smaller and smaller each day, due to the web.
As I sang that song and pondered the interconnected nature of a web, I thought about the importance of engaging in our world, rather than standing outside it looking in. I am called to be connected to others, rather than to remain detached, watching from afar. I believe that I can have a bigger impact in spreading God’s shalom, if I am inside and connected to people in the way of love.
As an agent of God’s shalom, I try to follow the example of Jesus. Jesus went to where people were. He consistently engaged in the lives of the people around him, in ways that were relevant to them. He met people right where they were.
Today, most people engage online in some form or other, so if I am to engage, I must enter into the arena they are inhabiting. People are constantly searching the web, seeking connection. They seek connection to other people, thoughts and ideas in order to make meaning of their lives. Sole online connection, of course, does not substitute for vital face-to-face connection; however, using it as an adjunct opens up many exciting possibilities.
In the town where I live and pastor, I frequently encounter people who are completely unfamiliar with Mennonites. I believe that Anabaptism, and its Jesus-centered way of simple living, peacemaking and communal emphasis, is relevant for today. Because of this conviction, I want to consider how I can use digital platforms to share my enthusiasm for a faith that makes a daily difference in my life and my congregation’s life.
Therefore, I choose a posture of curiosity, rather than suspicion toward various digital platforms. My curiosity leads me to familiarize myself with digital platforms available and their intended purposes, as well as their challenges. When I am informed, I can discern, along with my congregation, how we can use those platforms for purposes of connection and to talk about how it looks to live out Anabaptist faith.
I cannot get the notion of the interconnected nature of a web out of my head. This image spurs me to view the web as a place that can, indeed, be used to share the much-needed message of God’s extravagant love. I want my congregation to be relevant and known as people of God’s love in our town of Corning and beyond, as we engage with our neighbors and form webs of connections and relationships.
COVID-19 is rapidly changing the ways we connect. Our connections to one another now rely heavily on the Web. Consider the nature of a web, with its many interconnections; we now have the opportunity to create life-giving online webs of connection and relationship, sharing God’s love as we build these connections during these times of uncertainty.