Thursday, September 28, 2017

Communion Will Never be the Same

It’s a big year for Lutherans – the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. So it struck me as significant that I was invited to participate in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s National Convention in July. I was privileged to present a sermon, and honoured to serve communion alongside a Synod Bishop.
At the 450th anniversary of the Lutheran’s Augsburg Confession of Faith in 1980, the Lutheran World Federation – representing 95% of Lutherans globally – invited Mennonites to join their celebration. Mennonites responded that it was difficult to celebrate a confession that condemned us for our views on theological matters such as infant baptism, even though the centuries-old memory of Anabaptist persecution had faded. But that invitation led to a 30 year reconciliation process, culminating in 2010.
As I stood before a full sanctuary of Evangelical Lutheran believers, the weight of responsibility descended upon my shoulders. I felt the eyes of a great “cloud of witnesses” observing. There I was; an Anabaptist leader about to help serve the Lord’s supper to Lutheran worshippers; those with whom we were in such harsh disagreement with centuries earlier.
Reconciliation is not an easy task. Though we'd all like to think that it's as simple as "let's kiss and make up," true reconciliation is a lengthy process. It involves truth telling. It includes admissions and confessions. It requires the non-defensive discipline of acceptance. Telling the truth can feel freeing to the one speaking. Hearing the truth can weigh on the one listening. But there is no reconciliation without this exchange.
For nearly 500 years, Anabaptists have borne martyrdom from a variety of persecutors. We have felt the weight of living out our beliefs. We have wrestled with the guilt of living safely and in peace while others risk their lives and take up arms. I wish I could say that in nearly 500 years we have learned how to express conviction without feeling like enemies to others, but long-standing patterns are difficult to break.
In this single act of reconciliation, of inviting me, an Anabaptist, to serve communion, Lutherans accepted our divergent understandings as an equal expression of love for God. Being invited to offer communion was not a statement of agreement. It did not mean that we are all of one mind. But it did acknowledge that we serve one God. We come to the same source of mercy and forgiveness. We go to the same place for redemption and restoration.
This provides Anabaptists with a huge challenge. Can we accept disagreeing viewpoints as equal expressions of love for God? I fear that we have not even been able to do so among ourselves.
"This is the blood of Christ shed for you." These are not words of entitlement. These are words of recognition. They acknowledge a fact – whether we like it or not; whether we agree with it or not.

In offering Eucharist to the Lutheran family, the feeling of being surrounded by a huge cloud of Anabaptist witnesses affected me more profoundly than serving communion has ever done before. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

CBC Drama "Pure": Gift or irritant?

I watched the first episode of CBC's new mini series entitled "Pure."

Understandably the various expressions of Anabaptist/Mennonite faith will feel misrepresented. The depiction lumps them all together like a typical potluck plateful of various foods.

As anticipated there is discomfort when particular shortcomings of the 'quiet in the land' is given national profile. We like to be known for our humble service not our humiliating deviations.

The spotlight is not a comfortable place for Mennonites. But it feels better resisting praise than it does refusing blame.

I don't know of any Mennonite who would feel comfortable being called "pure". But neither do we like faults being publicly flaunted.

However, this time of discomfort might offer a gift of self reflection. I think our discomfort mirrors a common Protestant aversion to facing shortcomings. To acknowledge the need of a Saviour is not problematic. But to describe the areas of personal struggle is.  When the confessional booth was discarded, our admission of sin was driven into private, unnamed remorse. Forgiveness then has also become a private struggle of acceptance.

We feel most comfortable looking like we have it all together and avoid portraying our frayed and frazzled selves.

I wonder how our God of grace views either the hesitation of admitting guilt or the fixation of holding onto guilt. Grace has never been an easy thing to accept.

The attention could provide the watching world with a refreshing display of self comfort. A faith community that is confident in Gods grace is able to smile at its own short comings. A faith community rich in experiencing grace is able to more easily extend grace to members of its own extended family without a nervous need to distinguish itself from bad behaviour. Such a comfort with who we are could be a refreshing contrast to the marketing culture dependent on having individuals feel bad about themselves.

This might be a gift to us as Mennonite communities. And we have the next few weeks to accept and use this gift wisely.

Monday, January 9, 2017

“Does that make sense?”

- guest post by Jonas Cornelsen

As a first-year student, it’s scary to speak up in class. This problem affects both students and professors. I took intro theology in my first year at CMU.

One day, the professor must have realized he’d been talking for over half an hour straight. He finished his point, took a step back from the lectern and asked, “Does that make sense?” Clearly not—the room was full of vacant stares. But class was over, there was no time to explain, and by then nobody remembered exactly what didn’t make sense. We were frustrated. I’m sure he was too.

For this post, Willard asked me to reflect on trust between Mennonite Church Canada leaders and constituents. I think of it in terms of clear, frequent, two-way communication. Misunderstandings hurt both sides. Between the publication of the Future Directions Task Force Final Report (FDTF) and Addendum last December, and the 2016 Assembly in Saskatoon seven months later, many expressed frustration that we, as congregations and individuals, hadn’t been fully informed or consulted about these big changes. I was one of them. But some hadn’t read the Task Force’s interim documents, or given feedback when previously asked. I was one of those too.

I’m not saying the Task Force’s interim communication was perfect. Like my prof’s lecture, it may have been complex, or difficult to follow for non-experts. I suspect this could have been fixed in both cases if something had been said. I recall one Task Force member saying they were pleased with the level of response the Final Report generated; they only wished it had been there all along.

It’s remarkable how similar the frustrations are on both sides. We want better communication from our leaders. They want the same from us.

It takes courage to speak up. We often think everyone around us gets it and our best bet is to catch up, or give up, in silence. My theology class, and the confusion after the FDTF report, suggest differently. If you’re lost, say something. Soon. It’s better to interrupt the lecture than to barely recognize the final exam.

MC Canada has called a special assembly for October, 2017, to vote on the new structure for our national church. This is sooner than I expected, but there’s still time to get into the conversation. Check out the Interim Council's transition site, or page through the Canadian Mennonite when it arrives. Emerging Voices Initiative (which I’m part of) was privileged to host a series of workshops this fall, where young and old have discussed our church’s future together. Events continue in Manitoba and Alberta this January.

We, as constituents, have a right to expect clarity from our leaders, and a plan for the future that reflects the best possible balance of our hopes. We need not wait until voting time to exercise that right. We’re more likely to be satisfied if we ask questions sooner, and show we’re listening.

Does that make sense?