Ruth Harder is the pastor at Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kansas. Prior to Rainbow, she was the associate pastor at Bethel College Mennonite in North Newton, Kansas, and before that she was a hospital chaplain as well as the communications coordinator and youth director at LaSalle Street Church, a multi-denominational church in Chicago, Illinois. Ruth grew up in Hillsboro, Kansas, and is a graduate of Bethel College (’01) and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (’07). Ruth is married to Jesse Graber, a free-lance illustrator. You will find at least one of them cheering on the Kansas City Royals come April.
…Our love is like a circle; Let’s go ’round one more time.
I learned Harry Chapin’s song about circles from an eclectic, vibrant worshipping community that meets at a community arts center called Patchwork Central in Evansville, Indiana. Whenever we sang it, smiles were shared and rich and strange harmonies found, depending on who was there and what instruments were accompanying us. This Evansville-based worshipping community isn’t a congregation of Mennonite Church USA. Yet, this is the place where I, a born-and-raised Mennonite, was finally inspired to pursue seminary studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
I still see myself as part of the Patchwork circle of love, and the same could be said about Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kansas, where I served as an associate pastor for six years. These congregations, or circles of love, remain a vital part of who I am and who I hope yet to become.
The circle of love that I now find myself within is called Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kansas. Like Patchwork, Rainbow is an eclectic group. Just getting us all in a nice, neat circle might prove difficult. Indeed, rainbows aren’t circular, but rather stretch side-to-side. Rainbow Mennonite has an especially unique shape, because for many years, Mennonites, Methodists, and Disciples of Christ all shared and worshipped in the same building. The three congregations worked side by side in order to make a positive and lasting impact in the surrounding Rosedale community. The three congregations didn’t see eye to eye on everything, but somehow they managed to come together on projects and outreach that did matter, that still matter.
So when I look out into the congregation Sunday after Sunday, I don’t just see the congregation that has gathered that given Sunday. I also try to remember the many congregations and generations that have shaped and inspired us to become who we hope yet to be.
The Lenten visual of four overlapping circles that graces the front of our sanctuary is particularly helpful as I try to be sensitive to the many and multilayered congregations, histories, and experiences that make up any place and people. Of course this visual also helps me ponder what God, and in particular, what the cross of Christ has to say to us when we gather as congregations. Can you see the cross at the center? I didn’t see it at first. Likewise, God can seem elusive at times. That is why I’m grateful to be part of this particular community who is seeking to “go ‘round one more time,” with the hope of learning more and more about God’s love at the center of it all.
Creator of the world, eternal God,
We have come from many places for a little while.
Redeemer of humanity, God-with-us,
We have come with all our differences, seeking common ground.
Spirit of unity, go-between God,
We have come on journeys of our own, to a place where journeys meet.
So here, in this shelter house, Let us take time together. For when paths cross and pilgrims gather, there is much to share and celebrate.
In your name, Three-In-One God, pattern of community. Amen.
~ from the Iona Abbey Worship Book