By Kelly Bates Oglesby
For nearly two years, I have been embedded in a Mennonite congregation. I came to fulfill the requirements for my Master of Divinity degree. Christian Theological Seminary (Indianapolis, Ind.) requires two years of ministry field service and am blessed to reach mutual agreement with First Mennonite Church of Indianapolis to complete my pastoral internship there.
After the usual stumbling and awkwardness of getting acquainted, this Free-Will-Baptecostal developed an authentic respect for Mennonite faith. Slowly, my eclectic spiritual journey begins to fuse Mennonite ways of being into my faith discipline and life. And I realized rather than being an intern I was becoming at home in the Mennonite church.
The immersion of love expressed in a myriad of ways during the Anabaptist Women Doing Theology Conference, “All You Need is Love: Honoring the Diversity of Women’s Voices in Theology,” left me feeling bittersweet. The time at the conference affirmed and confirmed all that was in my spirit, and spoke to the dreams I dared since I was girl.
Yet, I knew this more than likely was not going to be a continual experience but a treasured stop on my spiritual journey. So I willed myself to be present at each moment, dared myself to love and to allow myself to be loved during this period of uplift and embrace with my sisters.
Saving my coins, overcoming transportation mishaps, and sacrificing time away from family, I had finally made my way to this place where love had everything to do with each person there. Love was the paradigm of the conference, love was the proclamation of every notice regarding the conference, and the love of God purposed in my spirit that I must go to this conference when all indicators said “not so.”
Preparing for the conference I submitted two proposals–one I believed in with all of my heart and a backup that was safe and traditional. The committee selected the one prepared with love: serving inner city as an urban missionary. At the time, I had hopes of doing so as a Mennonite. Recently, developments have changed my status and I find myself as Mennonite in my heart without a local congregation.
First Mennonite Church is an exceptionally kind and welcoming community that is in the midst of leadership transition at the lead pastor level. The current Pastor/Elder Team did not feel it an appropriate time to commit to becoming the covering/sending congregation for a church plant, given the other discernment at hand.
Hence, I plan to honor the Mennonite Church USA pastoral/ecclesial policy and protocol for pastors not to engage with congregations after ending official duties for at least a year. The end of my time was planned when I began my service. What was unexpected was for me was to find myself theologically, ideologically, and simply at home during the internship.
Since the Anabaptist Women Doing Theology Conference, women have reached out to me and continue to connect with me. I pray this continues. The Women in Leadership Project, African American Mennonite Association, and the many individual connections assure me that love is not confined or constricted to a building.
As I engage in the urban mission work God has given as a vocation, I will use the lessons and expressions of living love shared at the women’s conference. As we sang together: “i found god in myself and i loved her i loved her fiercely” ― Ntozake Shange