Cathy Stoner is the mother of four mostly grown kids. She is a Sunday school teacher, tennis player, writer and bicycle mechanic. With the Spirit’s help, and that of her congregation at Kern Road Mennonite Church, fellow members of Cana Community and her neighbors in South Bend, she tries to make sense of the world. Her husband, Andre, partners with her in this hard and joyful work.
I am in Orlando with six youth from Kern Road Mennonite Church in South Bend, Indiana, and our pastor of worship and formation, Lane Miller.
My thought, my hope, my prayer in the middle of the night is to find the most challenging, radical workshops available, worships that will push us and encourage us to be what we’re trying to be.
So for snapshots:
First, in the morning youth worship, Melody Pannell, a social work professor at Eastern Mennonite University, nudges — no, implores — us to receive our status as “beloved by God.” No strings attached. She shares from her experience growing up in Harlem, struggling to accept her own worthiness. Melody speaks with the self-assurance of a woman who knows what she’s doing what she’s made for, offering hope and comfort to those in pain. She talks and you feel like she’s hugging you.
At the Inclusive Worship service we commemorated the lives of 50 mostly Latinx LGBTQ community members lost in the shooting at the Pulse night club last year. Hymns of hope and lament were sung and Regina Shands Stoltzfus, professor at Goshen College recalled Emmit Till’s mother requesting an open casket funeral “so the world can see what I see.” I liked where this day was going so far — two African-American women keeping it real, pointing to redemption amidst struggle.
Then at the first-ever MennoTalk we celebrated women. A panel of five women — Alma Ovalle, Jenny Castro, Hannah Heinzekehr, Sarah Bixler and Abby King — named setbacks and triumphs women have faced, from hating our own bodies to being relegated to the children’s wing in the church. But as Sarah pointed out, by being “restricted” to the role of Sunday School teacher and having relationships characterized by attachments, women have actually played a huge formational role in the lives of children and youth in the church and have probably been more influential than those who held preaching roles. This sounded pretty good to me, as a veteran middle school Sunday school teacher.
I was delighted to be hearing all this sitting next to the two young women in our youth group. My prayers for a fruitful day had been answered beyond my expectations.
I was already brimming with challenge, encouragement, lament, indignation and resolve as I entered the evening youth worship with our group. We planned to jump in the pool afterwards, welcome respite from all the above. Enough intensity already. One of my girls said, “I looked over and saw you were crying today.”
Which time? I wondered.
I was staggered with disbelief as I saw John and Michelle Sharp’s faces appear on the big screen at the beginning of worship. Via skype they related the story of their son, MJ’s peacemaking career, including a stint with the Military Counseling Network, where Andre and I worked with MCC in Germany.
The whole house was completely silent as MJ’s parents related the story of their 34-year-old son’s death just three months ago working for the UN in Congo. Michelle and John stuck to their script, the only way they got through this excruciating exercise. They concluded with the questions, “Who will continue this work of Jesus’ love and peacemaking? Will it be you?”
Love is a verb.
And sleep is a noun.