James Hamrick is a member of the North Suburban Mennonite Church (Libertyville, Ill.) pastoral team. These reflections originally appeared in the Illinois Mennonite Conference weekly newsletter, and are shared here with permission.
It can be easy for Christians who are commited to Jesus’ way of nonviolence to feel a little lonely, especially in an area like ours where historic peace churches do not grow on trees. While many of our mainline church neighbors do have a commitment to peace work, it seems at times that most of our Christian neighbors have made their peace with war and American militarism. Those of us who believe Jesus taught a different way can occasionally feel like Elijah who thought (wrongly) that he was the only prophet of Yahweh left. This was the main reason I started making the 20+ mile weekly pilgrimage to North Suburban several years ago: I wanted to be around other Christians who didn’t think it was crazy to believe war is wrong or that Jesus calls us to find solutions to conflict that do not involve killing our enemies.
One of the things that I appreciated most about going to Convention in Phoenix was the opportunity to be around thousands of other Mennonite Christians, many (I hope most) of whom also share a real commitment to Jesus’ way of peace. It was nice to be reminded that our congregation is not alone: there are peace churches scattered throughout the U.S. that are bearing witness to the Gospel of Peace in their own communities. They are living out this witness not only by opposing state violence, but also by welcoming the stranger and seeking justice for the marginalized. During convention, I had the opportunity to hear many of the ways are sisters and brothers are doing things both big and small to usher in God’s reign. And through speakers from non-Mennonite traditions (evangelical, Methodist, etc.) we were reminded that it’s not just Christians who are part of historic peace churches who are proclaiming the Gospel of Peace.
There are at least three things I took away from all of this: (1) The brokenness of our world can seem overwhelming at times — there is just so much to do! I think we can find encouragement that throughout our country and our world there are small communities of the peace and justice ‘harvesters’ Jesus spoke about who are chipping away at empire like Daniel’s vision of the little stone (to mix agricultural and quarry metaphors). We are not alone!
(2) There is a need to plant missional peace churches. If North Suburban did not exist, I probably would have stopped going to church altogether. We need congregations in every county in America (that’s only 3,007) who are striving to live out the Gospel of Peace (and whether they have Mennonite in the name doesn’t really matter). Fortunately this is a priority of Mennonite Church USA and a part of the “Purposeful Plan” (lines 898-906, 998-1018). I wonder how we can be involved? I notice there is no Mennonite church in the counties to our immediate west or north…(or east, but building a floating church on Lake Michigan might be a challenge).
(3) Everyone should go to convention! I think this is an invaluable experience, particularly for those who are newer to the Mennonite church. It is not too early to start planning to attend Kansas City 2015. Or to visit our Canadian neighbors for Winnepeg 2014. Or Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, Pa., in 2015. Or all three if you really like hanging out with Mennonites. We’re part of a bigger movement and a wonderful tradition, and convention is a great way to experience it.