Sunday, July 30, 2017

Reflections On A Virginia Conference Assembly

In the introduction to Amish farmer and minister David Kline’s book, “Letters From Larksong,” are these words by one of his friends, poet Wendell Berry:

.... my friend David Kline told me,
"It falls strangely on Amish ears,
This talk of how you find yourself.
We Amish, after all, don't try
To find ourselves. We try to lose
Ourselves"--and thus are lost within
The found world of sunlight and rain
Where fields are green and then are ripe,
And the people eat together by
The charity of God, who is kind
Even to those who give no thanks.

Our July 20-22 Virginia Mennonite Conference Assembly proved to be another great time of uplifting worship, inspirational messages and meeting with friends and fellow believers I've grown to love and appreciate over my past fifty years of ministry.

Sadly, VMC, like many other Mennonite communions across the land, is faced with some dwindling numbers due to individuals and congregations leaving the church for a variety of reasons. This brings about feelings of grief over the "loss of loved ones", sisters and brothers who've been so much a part of our church family. We're all left with fears over how we might stem these losses.

This year's assembly theme was "Neighbors: Strangers No More", a special focus on the church reaching out to include new immigrants, refugees and other alienated and disenfranchised people in our communities. The evening services and all of the workshops highlighted these concerns.

In our delegate sessions, however, we largely went about business as usual, as in dealing with finances, discussing church policies, and trying to find consensus on the wording of our conference's vision statement. Good things to think about, and in some ways all important. But I couldn't help but wonder, what would happen if we were to spend the bulk of our business session time in how to extravagantly invest ourselves and our resources in the service of others, and less on efforts to define and preserve ourselves and our future as a conference?

In other words, might Jesus' admonitions about not saving or preserving our personal lives (but to take radical risks of losing them) also apply to our corporate lives as churches and church institutions?

I love my church family, and so much want to see it preserved. But Jesus's way of accomplishing this may be counterintuitive. He would have us save ourselves not so much by building, staffing and financing our programs and institutions, but by radically giving ourselves and our assets away.

Just like He did.
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