Monthly Archives: July 2015

Hashtags, polity, and buzzwords

If you were unable to attend worship on Sunday you missed a wonderful celebration of Mark’s credentialing, including a powerful sermon reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the banquet in Luke 14.  We were honored to have numerous out of town guests (32 to be precise), many from Central District Conference, and there were various times of spontaneous applause and Amen-ing.  The sermon can be read or heard on our website HERE, and a few pictures are posted on our church’s Facebook page HERE.  You can also listen to the whole worship service HERE.  The service and the open mic time during the meal that followed also included a number of memorable and hashtag-able phrases and inside jokes:  #hellofriends  #atvariance  #stillmoreroom  #brunch  #cementtruck  #licensetodrive.

Because the credentialing of persons who identify as LGBTQ remains at odds with official denominational teaching and statements, you may very likely find yourself in a conversation in which the topic of church polity arises.  So, in the spirit of knowing what we’re talking about, below is a brief polity primer of words and phrases in the atmosphere these days, with a few added comments of how they relate to us:

Polity – The policies, understandings, and practices that guide church life.

Credentialing – Granting of rights and privileges to individual ministers.  Area conferences  (like Central District Conference) grant credentials, which are in turn recognized by the denomination.  Credentialing is a broad term that includes both licensing and ordination.

Licensing – An initial credential intended to be a time of testing and growing in one’s ministry calling.  A ministry license is temporary and valid only within one’s area conference.  Mark was licensed on Sunday.

Ordination A credential for which one is eligible after at least two years of licensed ministry.  Ordination is a life-long designation and is transferable between area conferences.  There are as of yet no ordained persons in same sex relationships within Mennonite Church USA.

Membership Guidelines – A set of agreements used as a basis for forming Mennonite Church USA in 2001.  The final part of the Guidelines includes the prohibition: “Pastors holding credentials in a conference of Mennonite Church USA may not perform a same-sex covenant ceremony.  Such actions would be grounds for review of their credentials by their area conference’s ministerial credentialing body.”  These Guidelines were also used as a reason for the denomination not recognizing the license granted to Pastor Theda Good of First Mennonite Church of Denver by Mountain States Mennonite Conference.  A resolution reaffirming these Guidelines passed by a 60% vote at the 2015 Kansas City Convention.

At Variance – A phrase and unofficial status being used these days to refer to pastors, congregations, and conferences which cannot in good conscience abide by the Membership Guidelines.  It does not imply being under sanctions or punishment for such decisions.

Forbearance – The keyword in a different resolution passed in Kansas City (71% affirmation) which calls on all parts of the church to respect differences of theology and practice regarding welcoming LGBTQ persons into membership, marriage, and ministry.

Queer – The Q in LGBTQ, originally used as a term of derision, and adopted by non-hetero folks as a term of pride which accurately captures a different but not deficient aspect of their humanity.  We might ponder that “Anabaptist” and even “Christian” were also names originally used to mock, but were adopted by these groups as points of identity:  “Re-baptizers” and “Little Christs.”  “Queer” also helps name people and relationships that are hard to categorize.  For example, What do you call a marriage between a transgender man and a woman?

Evana – A small but potentially growing network of Mennonite congregations who hold to traditional understandings regarding LGBTQ matters, most of whom believe Mennonite Church USA has already gone too far in tolerating change.  In other words, this is an emerging conservative faction of a church split.  The name is a combination of Evangelical and Anabaptist.

Cement Truck  – A top ten all time CMC Children’s Time illustration.  Check with Tim Stried.

Still More Room – Listen to Sunday’s sermon.

Put a Ring on It:  What you do to something if you like it.  Check with Mark Rupp.

Did I miss anything?

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Geologic time

Our family arrived back from vacation last Thursday night.  We had all driven out to Kansas City, Eve and me staying for the Convention, Abbie taking Lily and Ila on to her hometown of Quinter in Western Kansas.  After Convention we joined up in Quinter and spent a week in the mountains near Gunnison, Colorado, in a cabin that Abbie’s grandpa built several decades ago.

It was a significant transition going from the hyperconnectivity of Convention – with face-to-face and facebook-to-facebook conversations happening all day every day – to a setting in which phone and internet connections were not even an option.  It was lovely.

Another transition was going from a setting in which change is measured in shifts of attitude and polity that occur over the span of years and decades, to a setting in which change is measured in the millions of years.  Convention was an exercise in the slow and painful nature of change at the institutional level, but when you’re standing on top of a fourteen thousand foot mountain, 60-70,000 years in the making, already having lost perhaps a mile of its peak height due to the slow and steady work of erosion, there is a whole different sense of time.

One place we visited which was a first for us was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a National Park two hours west of the cabin.  Part of the geologic history of the Black Canyon includes heavy volcanic activity about 30 million years ago, and, importantly, the Gunnison River which has cut out the canyon and still flows at its bottom, dropping through one stretch of the canyon at a steep 240 feet per mile.  The canyon is still being formed, but as rapid as the river runs through it, it still only wears away the hard metamorphic rock about the depth of a human hair per year.  How’s that for (not) rapid change?

Cheers for the patient and faithful river, which is fed by the rain and snow and follows its course, slowly carving a deeper and more beautiful path as it goes.  And cheers for the urgent volcano, which, after pressure has built up over time, explodes suddenly onto the scene and, before you know it, creates a whole new landscape for future generations to inherit.

Dear queer Mennonites

Dear queer Mennonites at the Kansas City Convention, and those watching from home,

This week your church failed you.  Your people, your denomination, your faith community opted to build unity for itself at your expense.  Officially, we reaffirmed that pastors may not perform same sex covenant ceremonies and that doing so is grounds for a review of their credentials.  Unofficially, implicitly, we declared that you are not worthy of the same degree of blessing and respect as are we, your straight sisters and brothers.  You just aren’t.  We did so not in conversation with you, but in conversation about you, acting on our own anxiety in a space in which we never asked you to utter a single word on your own behalf.  When you disrupted our orderly gathering to remind us that you exist as real people with real bodies, we responded with anger and disdain.  How dare you interrupt us in this way?  We are a people of peace.  We escorted you out of the room so that we could continue our peaceful deliberations of constructing peace through a majority vote.  The majority won, you lost, and that cannot officially change for four more years.

This week your church sinned against you.  I would apologize and ask forgiveness for this on behalf of the church, but for the request for forgiveness to carry any substance beyond a token gesture it must come with commitments to our own transformation we are unwilling to make at this time.  We declare over and over again with our words that “reconciliation is the center of our work,” even as we declare over and over again with our actions, “but not with you.”

For some of you, this is the last straw and you will need to distance yourselves from this emotionally and spiritually abusive church body in order to be healthy.  For that I grieve, but I also bless you in finding the community in which you will flourish.  A growing number of you are part of local Mennonite congregations that are learning to welcome and bless you and be blessed by you, and for that I rejoice.

Whether you are staying or leaving, or hovering in the unknown, the main thing I want say is this: This week you have been Christ to me, and not only me, but this entire gathering of your Mennonite family.  You have comforted me – you, comforting me! – when I was most discouraged and saddened by the events of the week.  You have counseled and listened with youth and adults who want to become more compassionate human beings.  You have filled the air with songs of Divine love, breathed in by those entering spaces of worship, those seeking to be in solidarity with you, and those not yet ready to receive the blessing that you are to us.  Like Christ, you have been cast out and you have occupied the place of shame, yet you have refused to let shame and death define you.  You have embodied resurrection power, casting out fear, and declaring a peace to us that surpasses our current understandings.  You are angry, you are exhausted, you are fierce, fabulous, and sacred.  You are the face of Jesus that the disciples on the road to Emmaus have not yet recognized because they are not yet willing to sit down with you at the table and receive the bread you have to offer.

In light of the happenings of this week, those of us in the church who are learning how to be your allies are in awe that you even consider us worthy of your time and energy.  I am so honored to call you sisters and brothers.

Blogging from Kansas City: Thursday

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”  Psalm 118:22-23

My dear, dear, Mennonite brothers and sisters, my people, my tribe.  All week long at this Convention we’ve been hearing about the Emmaus road story.  How the risen Jesus appeared to two distraught travelers, and “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”  The passage from Psalm 118:22 appears no less than six times in the New Testament and served as one of the central scriptures through which the early church, and perhaps Jesus himself, interpreted the meaning of Christ.

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  The builders carefully select the rocks they will use for the structure they are building, choosing the ones that fit just right row on row, stones with a similar shape and size to fit the established pattern.  The odd shaped stone that will not fit is tossed aside and rejected or, perhaps, crucified.

For the last 14 years Mennonite Church USA has been building its house.  In doing so we have rejected the stones that do not fit our established pattern.  The odd shaped stone, the one we can’t find a place for, the stone we don’t understand, the queer stone, is thrown to the side and rejected.

The house is showing signs of cracking and on Thursday we attempted to shore up this structure by once again assuring ourselves that we are building with the right kind of stones.  We reaffirmed that the stone we have rejected still has no place of official blessing among us.

Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.”  The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  You’re missing out on the beautiful and sacred home God is building among you – a space of hospitality and welcome.  A place of celebration and blessing.  It’s already happening.  The old fortress is crumbling.

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.