This post reflects my personal wrestling with these issues and does not reflect any “official” stance or statement of Ohio Conference of MC USA.
Four years ago, when we shared with people that we had decided to move to Kidron, Ohio (back to my husband’s home community), we received quite a mixed response—and I expected that. However, I was unsettled by the number of people who expressed their surprise that we were relocating to such a “conservative” area.
What I believed then (and have found to be true now), is that just like Virginia Conference (where we moved from), Ohio Conference has a wide spectrum of theological beliefs represented within its constituency. Seventy-seven congregations from across the state (and those nearby) comprise our membership.
About a year ago, the denomination requested that the 21 area conferences poll their congregations to find out their positions and preferences regarding hosting the Mennonite Convention in Phoenix in the summer of 2012. Half of the Ohio Conference congregations responded to our inquiry. Of those that responded, half were in favor having the convention in Phoenix (for a variety of reasons,) while the other half were opposed to moving forward with that plan (for a variety of other reasons which also included a list of various suggested alternatives). So, it was not surprising to me that in the following months there was much discussion and it seemed that clear consensus was not forthcoming.
However, what all of that context highlights for me is that living in community is hard work. Being the unified body of Christ is not easy. I believe people are sincere and diligent in their seeking of God and use of scripture, but our family backgrounds, education, experiences, language and ways of understanding, melded with our theology, can, at times, bring us to differing points of view.
Many of us (maybe most?) live with these kinds of tensions within our own families. Often we’re able to cope with those differences because we have shared experiences and a deep commitment to the relationships.
Within the congregational context, of course these differences exist as well. Again, it can be challenging to worship and work together when we have different views, but ideally we share experiences and a commitment to relationship that helps us understand and appreciate each other.
However, as we continue to move into larger spheres (i.e. conferences, denomination,) it can be even more stretching to maintain unity or common understandings because we don’t know and trust each person. Often we forget that the denomination and conferences (and even our congregations) represent individuals who are committed to (Anabaptist-Mennonite ways of understanding) Christ.
I am weary of conflict. I am tired of being asked to drawn lines or choose “sides.” But, I also know that for my beliefs to have meaning, for my witness to make a difference, I must have an embodied faith. This means more than correct beliefs, but actions and a lifestyle that reflect Christ. It means being in relationship with people in different places on their spiritual journey. It means confessing my own sins and being willing to be different than the mainstream. Embodied faith is messy, beautiful, stretching, joyful, uncomfortable, humbling and rewarding.
I understand there are mixed responses to the idea of meeting in Phoenix, for a variety of merited, deeply held reasons. While I have been compelled by “arguments” on both “sides,” I hope that my commitment to living out my faith and ongoing learning will help me to continue to choose to trust and to invest in relationships. The best way I know to build those relationships is to spend time with my brothers and sisters in Christ; I plan to do that in Phoenix.
Sherah-Leigh (Zehr) Gerber, works for Ohio Conference half-time as Coordinator of Volunteers, planning resourcing events and relating to the ministry teams of the Conference. A graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and Seminary, she has served in a variety of congregational and Conference ministry positions. In addition to spending time with her family, Sherah-Leigh enjoys reading, baking and blogging about her kitchen adventures (www.shergerber.blogspot.com). She and her husband, BJ, live in Wayne County, Ohio with their daughter Anna. They attend Kidron Mennonite Church.