Rachel Lesher lives in Durham, North Carolina, with her husband, Ben, a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill. They attend Chapel Hill Mennonite Church. Originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, she is a graduate of Messiah College and Palmer Seminary of Eastern University. Rachel works as a research analyst at Duke University and is a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“The priesthood of all believers … means that in the community of saints, God has constructed his body such that we are all priests to one another. Priesthood of all believers has more to do with the believer’s service than with an individual’s position or status. We are all believer-priests. We all stand equally before God. Such standing does not negate specific giftedness or calling. It rather enhances our giftedness as each one of us individually and collectively does [our] part to build the body. We are all priests. We are all responsible.” (Daniel Akin, Perspectives on Church Government)
My husband and I have been attending Mennonite churches since we were married, first in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and currently in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We chose to attend Mennonite churches; we both attended Anabaptist churches before we were married, and we resonate with many of the central values of Anabaptism and the way it “does church.” But when I look back at the actual congregations we have attended, it feels more like they chose us. And then we in turn, chose them. This is not to say that we didn’t want to attend each of them. More so that once we began to attend these churches, they began to gently push us into involvement so subtly and early on that we felt we were a part of the church long before we expected we would.
Our first experience with this gentle push was in Lancaster. We had only been attending a church there for a few weeks when someone informed us that we had a mailbox, and that mail had already been accumulating for a couple of weeks. We laughed about it at first – a mailbox already! We hadn’t even decided if we were going to attend there yet. I had attended some churches for years before I even knew how to go about requesting a mailbox.
Yet soon after, we began to be asked to participate in the service, which led to various other requests to be a part of church life. Would we consider reading Scripture? Preaching a multi-voice sermon? Preaching a whole sermon? Helping to lead the youth group? Traveling to the Mennonite convention in Phoenix with the youth group? By the time we said goodbye to our church as we moved to North Carolina for graduate school, we had become more involved in the life of the community there than I ever imagined we would.
The same has been true for us at our congregation in North Carolina. We were quickly asked to read Scripture, help with Communion, join a small group and participate in church committees and traditions. I felt once again like the community reached out to us before we knew how or were brave enough to offer ourselves to it.
The “priesthood of all believers” has taken on a new meaning as I have been a part of these church communities. I have seen God present as I see old and young, men and women, students and professors, shy and outgoing, participating in the life of the church together. In the midst of this, I have never been made to feel that I am inadequate to participate or serve in the life of the church, no matter how shy or inadequate I may feel. I have respectfully and gently been encouraged to be an active member of a body of people, each with our own hesitations, fears, feelings of inadequacy and past experiences – positive or negative. Yet we are choosing to be together, and to encourage each other to be fully a part of who we are as a body.
I have been challenged by these congregations to look beyond asking the same person to participate in the same way every time. I’ve been challenged to look beyond the most outgoing, friendly or loudest volunteer. And I’ve also thought a lot about who is not yet present in our midst to be asked to participate – either because they do not feel welcome yet, or because we have not yet invited them.
Someone went out of their way to give us a mailbox, to welcome us into a community and to give us responsibility, making us feel a valued part of a community long before we knew where we fit in. I pray that I will in turn, reach out to others who have yet to be made welcome or to be invited – whether it be inviting them to a service or offering them a mailbox.