I was a young pastor ready to embark on one of the most dangerous tasks: helping to lead a congregation through a building process. Building projects are notorious for doing in pastors. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a preference. Everyone is an owner. It is a context readymade for conflict.
With underdeveloped wisdom – not yet baptized with the wounds of heated congregational meetings, I leapt into the context. And what a context: two congregations sold their separate buildings, amalgamated and decided to build a new building together.
I stood behind the wooden pulpit, looked across the congregation and dared to throw out the challenge.
“Building projects are known for producing congregational fighting” I said. “But we will have the opportunity to show the community something different.”
“The building committee will bring us decisions that will need to be made; colour of paint, carpet etc. But this is not about our individual preferences. Some have said that the church is primarily for those who do not belong to it. If so, then perhaps we should be asking our neighbours their preference for colours and textures. How would they like this church to look?”
The congregation rose to the occasion. They toiled together. They displayed the qualities of a community working together for the glory of God.
I was proud of the new building. I was proud of the process. I was proud to be their pastor.
I find myself in a similar situation now. The stakes are higher. Now I look across hundreds of congregations. Each unique and dissimilar and yet every one with a common yearning to display the wondrous love of our holy and passionate God.
This time it is not the construction of a new church building. It is a discernment process of a deeply personal and emotional matter: how to respond to persons attracted to the same sex. For many the stakes seem very high.
This too is a topic notorious for conflict.
But generally speaking, I have seen the Spirit of God at work in our community of faith. I have seen passion expressed: evidence of our love for God and the church. I have seen bold expressions of solidarity: evidence of our love for God and others.
I have seen a people listen to each other’s stories and passions because we know that that listening to one another positions us best to hear the voice of God.
I have seen a people who know that understanding someone is not the same as agreeing with someone, but seeking to understand is the same as seeking to maintain our unity in Christ.
The world is watching the church. It always has. I want the world to see a church that is unashamed to be in disagreement as they discern – because they are confident of God’s righteous grace and holy mercy. A church that knows how to lovingly disagree is a church that is ready to navigate the future.
We are Mennonite Church Canada; congregations representing a wealth of experience, passion and commitment. I am called upon to represent this body of believers. I am called upon to explain this body of believers. I do this with joy. I do this with confidence. I do this with gratitude – for in the midst of emotional disagreement – I see a people committed to extending the reconciling love of Christ.
I am not traumatized by these fearful times. I am grateful for a People of God ready to be church in fearful times. This is my church, and I am proud of my church.