“We commit…”

“We commit…” 

These two words could be spoken at a child dedication, a baptism, or a wedding.  Each of these occasions honors a particular way of being in relationship.  One in which mutual commitments offer themselves as fertile soil for growth and flourishing.

These words also show up in the middle of our new Membership Commitment statement.  Congregational life is, if nothing else, relational.  Our relationship with one another.  Our relationship with creation and the Divine.  “We commit…” is followed by seven different statements that name who we aspire to be together.

Those statements will serve as a basis for a seven week worship series beginning this Sunday.  The focus won’t be so much on membership – we’ll save that for the spring – as it will be on taking a deeper dive into these core commitments.  This is fresh language for us, and hopefully offers itself as fertile soil. 

This week: “We commit to gather for worship and around the table where everyone is welcome.” 

The whole statement is posted on our website HERE.

In looking this over again, these seven commitments feel like a companion piece to the Twelve Scriptures project we did back in 2014, another way of stating what is of central importance to us.  Both processes invited input through focus groups as a way of listening to one another and moving toward a final something we could claim together.

Too many commitments, or commitments with a legalistic emphasis, can be overbearing.  But there’s something necessary, even freeing, about commitments that remind us how to be in right relationship with those around us, and how our lives might be a small reflection of the Divine life.

Joel

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Joy and delight

In a recent interview with poet Ross Gay, Krista Tippet suggested that his work could be summarized as seeing “joy as a calling precisely in a moment like this.”  The “moment like this” is our present condition of environmental degradation, blatant white nationalism, and general anxiety about the trajectory of our nation and species.  These are precisely the conditions that can make joy seem irresponsible — the possession of the privileged few, or those oblivious to reality.  Not so, says Ross Gay.  Not so at all.

A synonym for joy that Ross Gay uses frequently is delight.  Between his 42nd and 43rd birthday he committed to writing each day, however briefly, about something that brought him delight.  It is published as The Book of Delights: Essays.   

He has also written about love and beauty: “I often think the gap in our speaking about and for justice is that we forget to advocate for what we love.  For what we find beautiful and necessary.  We are good at fighting, but imagining and holding in one’s imagination what is wonderful and to be adored and preserved and exalted is harder for us.”

All this is important and so very freeing.  Joy is, after all, one of those fruits of the Spirit that Paul names in Galatians, right alongside love and peace.  Joy and delight are of divine origin, with value in and of themselves.  Joy is not an easy thing to possess, but it seems that relaxing into the Spirit could enable us to be possessed by it just a little more each day.    

Joel

Immigration actions

I arrived back from vacation last Wednesday.  Usually this time of year is slower – a natural time to step away.  But this last week hasn’t been slow – due mainly to our congregation being in the thick of immigrant justice work these days.

Last Wednesday we hosted the monthly Interfaith Justice Table breakfast, attended by clergy and non-profit leaders.  Edith had some time to update people on the large fine issued against her from ICE.  Her attorney is looking for ways to issue a legal challenge to the excessive fine, received by about 10 women in sanctuary.

On Thursday CMC hosted an event organized by our neighbors North Broadway United Methodist Church.  They brought in Ravi Ragbir of the New York New Sanctuary Coalition.  He led a training on accompanying people to ICE check ins and immigration court.  One of the more memorable things he shared was that the most powerful people in this movement by way of moral persuasion are elderly white women of faith.  People laughed, but he was serious.  During the same event, CMCer Joe Mas spoke on a panel and soberly commented that he fears we are reaching the end of what the legal system can do to protect families facing separation through deportation.  It’s up to the people.

On Friday we accepted an interview from WORLD magazine.  For those not familiar, WORLD reports news through the lens of conservative evangelicalism.  But, upon a bit of research, they have been sympathetic toward the plight of migrants in the US, and wanted to tell Edith’s story, released as a podcast sometime in the next couple weeks.  So, we talked with them.

On Sunday afternoon there was a press conference at Just North Church on Henderson Rd (I mistakenly announced Bethel Rd during worship).  That congregation is welcoming a Honduran asylum family to live in their building for the next number of months before they get set up with work permits.  The Dispatch told their harrowing story of escaping gang violence and traveling to the US, entering through a legal port of entry.  One of the purposes of the press conference was to again attempt to humanize what need not be a polarizing issue.  And show that this is not just a border issue.

On Tuesday, last evening, Edith’s support team met and, among other things, affirmed the emphasis on collecting letters of support to be used to accompany some upcoming applications in Edith’s legal case.  This is something everyone can do!  As mentioned in previous announcement this week, such a letter has this outline:

[Date]


To Whom it may concern:


[Body of the letter describing your experience of Edith’s upstanding character and the importance of her remaining in the US]

Sincerely,

[Signature]

[Full Name Printed]

CMC is also actively supporting two other families who have come to the US seeking safety.  Leaders of those efforts make needs known from time to time.

It’s a time in our country when even the smallest gesture of kindness toward those being demonized as outsiders shines a light and points toward a better way.

God be with us all.

Joel

Church conference season

It’s church conference season.

This past weekend seven of us from CMC went up to Milwaukee to attend the Central District Conference annual gathering.  There are 45 congregations within CDC, including three new members, affirmed by delegate vote: Americus (Georgia), Emmanuel (Sarasota, Florida), and Jubilee (Bellefontaine, Ohio). 

CDC has a wide geographical range – from St. Paul, Minnesota to Sarasota; from Ames, Iowa to Harrisonburg, Virginia.  CMC is one of the larger congregations.  The hosts, a small congregation that rents worship space from the Lutheran church where we all gathered, joked that not so long ago they had a meeting in which they joyfully realized, “We’re on the cusp of viability!”

The treasurer commented during his report that “A boring financial report is a good financial report.”  Aside from a couple other humorous comments, it was a bit boring.  CDC is financially healthy, supporting a full time conference minister (Doug Luginbill) and administrator (Emma Hartman) and various committees.  Many of you met, or at least saw, Doug at Mark’s ordination.

A healthy CDC is good for CMC.  Because of denominational turmoil, with whole conferences leaving and congregations re-aligning, conference has become an important point of identity and support.  CDC is a pretty loose affiliation, as strong as the relationships we tend.  The main focus of gatherings like this is hearing stories from one another’s settings, worship, and reflection on a common theme.  This year that theme was “Come walk with us…to God knows where!”

This fits well with our own congregational journey.  Who knows where this sanctuary work will lead us?  Who knows how these children among us will instruct us?  Who knows what will be asked of us, what graces will come our way, in the months and years ahead?  Five year plans can be valuable, and we may be working toward one ourselves, but there’s something deeply spiritual – and potentially freeing – about not knowing where we’re headed – in our own lives, on a congregational and wider church level.

Look for upcoming conference news that will tell more about what happened at the annual gathering.

Next week 13 of us (5 adults and 8 not-yet-adults) will head to Kansas City for the Mennonite Church USA convention. 

Joel

Thoughts on marriage

On Sunday Abbie and I celebrated our 18th anniversary.  We decided our marriage is now officially an adult.  I don’t think we get a third vote at the polls.  Life has been full of what feels like very adult tasks – raising a family, maintaining a property, work responsibilities.

My parents treated us with a hotel stay in Yellow Springs while they kept the girls.  It was a mini-retreat.  Time was unhurried.  Conversations were uninterrupted.  We ate good food prepared and cleared by someone else.  The rain mostly held off when we wanted to be outside.

We’ve been exploring the Enneagram off and on for the last year or so.  We both might fit best into Nine, “The Peacemaker” type.  The Enneagram Institute says of double Nine couples: “They are easy going and do not let the minor irritations of life or the relationship get to them easily.”  It also says, “Double Nine couples can be so bound to their desire for harmony that they find it difficult to raise important issues to the other.”

Time together without the other responsibilities of life proved good to take a deeper dive into where we’re at in our relationship and the kind of partners we’d like to be for one another. 

We remembered and researched a bit the line from anthropologist Margaret Mead who believed everyone should have three marriages.  The way she broke it down, the first marriage is for leaving home, the second is for raising children, and the third for companionship.  She was literally married three times, and considered each successful because they fulfilled these roles in her life.  Others have noted it’s possible to have three marriages to the same person.

So, on a whim, we decided we are now going to start our second marriage.  It doesn’t quite break down into Margaret Mead’s categories, but this marriage is an adult, so there’s that.   

Marriage would be one thing if it were just a matter of getting to know another person.  But we are also getting to know ourselves, a self that is developing and changing in ways we can’t always anticipate.  The self which married the other self years ago – neither exist now.  Neither does the first marriage.  And that can be a good thing. 

Joel

(Almost) Ordination time

In a week and a half we have a unique occasion for celebration – Pastor Mark will be ordained for pastoral ministry. 

Mennonite theology values the priesthood of all believers.  We all have access to the Divine and share in the call to embody the healing and reconciling ministry of Jesus.  We also recognize certain offices of ministry, among them chaplains and pastors.  The priesthood of all believers doesn’t necessarily mean the pastorhood of all believers!

Our denominational Polity Manual says: “Ordination is an act of the church that confirms those whom God and the church have called to particular roles of leadership ministry – both to build up the local body and to further engage the congregation in the mission of God.”

In our polity, credentialing for ministry is a two-step process.  A pastor is first licensed, a temporary credential for a time of testing and discernment by the individual and the congregation.  And then, if both choose, ordination, which affirms and solidifies this calling.

On Sunday, June 9, during the worship service, we as the church, led by CDC Conference Minister Doug Luginbill, will act and confirm Mark’s ministry.

It’s kind of routine and kind of a big deal.  Routine because this is a common step for pastors to take who decide they want to stick with this for a while.  The words of affirmation and blessing are those uttered in other congregations present and past.    

It’s a big deal because pastorhood is no small task.  It’s a big deal for a community to say they want you to help lead them, to borrow words from our Membership Commitment statement, “toward a more just, peaceful, and merciful embodiment of God’s love in this world.”  That’s a big deal, and can feel kind of heavy sometimes.   

It’s also a big deal because the church as a whole is still fearful and, at times, openly hostile towards queer folks, especially as leaders.  I have a deep appreciation and admiration for Mark and others who accept this calling despite these realities.       

I’m grateful Mark has heard the voice that is deeper and truer than those objections.  I’m grateful CMC has been fertile ground for his flourishing.  I’m grateful for how Mark has been a pastor to me through his caring and thoughtful spirit. 

So let’s celebrate on June 9. 

And remember, if you show up at the church building this Sunday you’ll be singing hymns solo.  We’re meeting at Highbanks Metro Park for the annual outdoor service.

Joel

Retirements

Yesterday I attended the convocation chapel at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO) which honored the careers or retiring professors Dr. John Kampen and Dr. Linda Mercadante.  Both have Mennonite ties.  John and his wife Carol are long time members of Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship where I pastored prior to CMC.  Linda and her husband Joe Mas attend CMC.

Both gave reflections.  John recalled what he feels to be the most important accomplishment of his professional career:  While teaching and serving as Academic Dean at Payne Theological Seminary, an African Methodist Episcopal Church school, he helped them become an officially credentialed seminary.  They continue to form black leaders who are shaping communities and institutions.

Linda spoke of MTSO as a haven for her over a long academic career that included personal challenges.  She began her career surrounded by male faculty and has seen the institution grow to embrace female faculty.  It was noted that because of her long tenure, over half of the alumni to ever pass through MTSO would know her, and that her work with those who identify as spiritual but not religious has made a major contribution at the intersection of faith and culture.

Retirement seems to be a major theme these days at CMC as well.  I don’t know how many of you have retired in the last couple years, but it’s a lot.  Which means questions of identity, direction, and calling are all very close to the surface these days.  Where to focus one’s energy?  How to enter into this new stage of life in a way that welcomes new opportunities along with a chance for renewal?  How to let go of professional identities yet still claim the gifts one exercised in those offices?  How to adjust expectations when one’s body doesn’t cooperate with one’s aspirations.  And many other such questions. 

Listening to John and Linda speak affirmed how valuable it is to listen to one another’s stories, and what a gift it is to have this multi-generational community called a congregation.  Since we’re starting to live with the words of our new Membership Commitment Statement, this line especially applies: “Learn from one another, allowing the wisdom of all ages to teach us.”

I’m not sure if we have enough structured ways to learn from the wisdom of all ages, but I want to say for now that it’s a very good thing.  And I’m guessing our recently retired folks are feeling both parts of that statement: That they have some wisdom to share, and that they have so much more to learn.

Joel