Joanne Gallardo is a Case Manager for Pathways to Housing D.C. and lives in Arlington, Virginia. She will soon take on the role of pastor of Faith Formation at Berkey Avenue Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana. She loves singing, stories, and coffee, in that order.
As I walk through the halls of the convention center, sit in on worship, attend delegate sessions and participate in the Future Church Summit, the thought that keeps coming back to me is “Wow. There are less of us here.” I enter convention with a heavy heart as some connections have been lost with my friends who are no longer connected to Mennonite Church USA. Their absence is felt here as we gather. With this loss, I’m hearing many folks worrying about the future of our denomination. Will we survive? What will happen to our church structure? What’s going to change?
On Wednesday morning, we had the privilege of hearing Rachel Held Evans speak. It struck me when she said, “Death is something empires worry about; death is not something resurrection people worry about.” What truth does that speak to us as a denomination? I believe that as a people who live into the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death is a part of our story. In fact, death is essential to tell the story. Old power structures will die, people will move on, things will change and not all will go back to the way it was before. It’s scary, daunting and painful at times. But from this death comes new life, and we, in turn, are changed.
One of the ways we are attempting to live into this new life is through the conversations happening at the Future Church Summit. On Wednesday night, we sat at tables, both speaking to and listening for what connects us to the broader Mennonite Church. We reflected on what’s important to us in our Anabaptist faith tradition, and what about this tradition speaks to us most. We were also treated to a walk through our shared history, as people from across the church were invited to highlight significant moments on our “Anabaptist timeline.” What I found myself missing was the inclusion of my people, Hispanic Mennonites, and our Asian Mennonite family. This spurred on discussion about those we include and exclude when we recount our history, and how until recently, our story has been told in the voice of the dominant culture. We both acknowledged and lamented mistakes borne out of our complicated past. What I found most encouraging was the way we as a body built upon one another’s stories and connections, creating an environment for the words, “Yes, and …”
New life also came in the form of a resolution brought forth to the delegate body in regards to Israel/Palestine. We heard personal testimonies of people whose hearts have been called to prayer and action in this region of deep conflict. The resolution was a labor of love born out of many hours of work spent by a large and diverse body of people from across Mennonite Church USA, and the passion for speaking into this complex and ongoing conflict was palpable. The resolution passed with a large majority, calling us to further work in the areas of peace and justice.
Given the events of Wednesday, it’s quite clear that the church is changing. While we may have lost some voices, new ones are entering. Old voices that have long been silenced have been given a place at the table. Young voices are bringing new perspectives and ideas. A different side to history is being told. How we respond to these new developments in the coming years will define us as a denomination. Love is a verb, but so is change. How, as a denomination, will we do both?