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Big Sanctuary day


Yesterday was a big Sanctuary day, with two major events.

Mayor Ginther and several of his staff brought lunch for Edith and ate with her.  Two of her children and I joined.  We had a little over an hour for Edith to tell her story, Brandow and Stephanie to talk about what it’s like to fear being separated from their mother, and the four of us to ask the mayor to use his influence to petition ICE to affirm re-opening Edith’s asylum case.  We didn’t get a firm commitment from him, but are hopeful the meal will impact his perspective moving forward in how Columbus residents are being impacted by harsh immigration tactics.

Mayor Ginther visit

In the evening we hosted the event Sanctuary People, Sanctuary Community, Sanctuary Movement.  The highlight was connecting Edith and Columbus with four other people currently in sanctuary, and their supporters: Austin, TX, Philadephia, PA, Raleigh, NC, and Durham NC.  One of the main goals was to elevate this as a national story to connect these cases and help create a new narrative of compassion.  I don’t have a good picture, but the event got a lot of attention with the local press, with links below.  During the day we were also interviewed by two international media outlets, one from Spain and one from Brazil.  I’m not currently aware of any national press that picked it up.

Today was another big day for the Espinals as Edith’s husband Manuel had a court date in Cleveland.  He was accompanied by a group of Columbus supporters.  We learned early this afternoon the very good news that he does not need to reappear in court until March 2019.  This means his own application for asylum is still pending and he maintains a temporary status in the US.

Days like yesterday are a clear reminder that Sanctuary has a life of its own.  Our collective life has become bound together with Edith, and, more widely, with a community of supporters in Columbus and across the country.  The publicity through the press is a good thing for Edith’s case, but puts us in unfamiliar territory.  There are days in which sanctuary has minimal impact on what happens around the church.  And there are days like yesterday.

From another angle, I’m guessing it is impacting every one of us in some way.  Yesterday a CMC father passed along a story about his young son telling his class in school that his church was providing a home for a woman who couldn’t live in her own home right now.  This was while the class was talking about how to keep doing the work that Dr. King taught.

Let’s stay in conversation with each other about how this is impacting us, and how we are caring for ourselves and one another.


Columbus Dispatch Growing sanctuary movement an act of resistance to immigration policy, activists say Resistance can take the form of marches and protest, but it also can be as simple as offering hospitality in an inhospitable world.

10TV Some of the Columbus community have hopes to start a “sanctuary movement”  A woman living in sanctuary at a Columbus church is fighting to stay with her family. Edith Espinal is an undocumented immigrant, facing deportation. She and others just like her across the country shared their stories with the community, hoping to start a “sanctuary movement.”

ABC6 Immigrants living in sanctuary to avoid deportation share their stories Immigrants from various American cities, including Columbus, shared their stories at a Columbus church. Columbus Mennonite Church hosted the event Tuesday night. The Clintonville church is where Edith Espinal has been living for 110 days.



The twelve months of CMC


In previous years I’ve written a January blog to recap the past year.  It’s basically a long list of happenings, with lots of commas.  It’s a little overwhelming (to write and probably to read), and I inevitably leave out something important.  This time I’d like to pare it down to a highlight from each month.  Hopefully this captures a sense of where we’ve been together and, especially if you’re new-ish, gives a window into what we do and value as a congregation.

January | Drew Hart spoke at our Winter Seminar which we promoted to Mennonites around Ohio.  We were joined by groups from as far away as Cleveland and Cincinnati in considering how the church might confront racism in its many forms.

February | Our worship theme for the month was “We are Sermon on the Mount people.”  We looked at how these core teachings in Matthew shape us as peacemakers.

March | Our annual comforter knotting party contributed toward a record year of productivity for the Piecemakers.  Many knots were tied, many tasty bowls of soup eaten, many conversations had.  Reserve March 2 and 3 this year.

April | Guest speaker Laurel Neufeld-Weaver spoke about congregations creating a safe and healthy environment for children.  Our Keeping CMC Safe policy guides us in these commitments.

May | We welcomed 19 new members.  Around 80 of us joined 2500 other people of faith from Franklin County at the BREAD Nehemiah Action to do justice.  Ongoing initiates include implementing restorative practices in Columbus City Schools, and a One ID card for county residents that would give homeless, undocumented immigrants, and others access to city services.  We formed a green block with our new CMC T-Shirts which read “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.”  A matching banner was hung on the north side of the church.

June | We began the summer Twelve Hymns Project series.  The congregation selected twelve hymns that we find most meaningful.  Summer worship included singing the hymns in different styles, a sermon about the history and theology of the hymns, and a personal reflection from someone for whom the hymn has special meaning.  A new hymnal project is in the works, to be completed in 2020.

July | Several of us attended the biennial Mennonite Church USA convention, in Orlando.  We passed a resolution affirming our commitments to Palestinians and Israelis, to work for a just peace and reject antisemitism in all its forms.  The gathering also included the Future Church Summit in which we were given time to collectively dream about the future of our denomination.  There was a noticeable absence of delegates from conferences who have chosen to no longer affiliate with the denomination.

August |   In less than a week’s time we discerned we would be a Sanctuary congregation.  Concretely, this meant we would host Edith Espinal to enable her to avoid deportation and keep her family together.  She first entered the church on Labor Day, was back in her home for most of September, and has been living with us since October 2.  The Columbus Dispatch named her case one of the top ten local stories of 2017.

September | Our annual retreat at Camp Luz in Northeast Ohio included opportunities for play and fun.  Children created small boats from found objects, and youth created trash fashion which they showcased at the Saturday evening talent show.

October | This month included the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church in Germany.  This is the event most commonly referenced as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  Soon the Anabaptists pushed this even further through the Radical Reformation.

November | We experimented with having our fall congregational meeting on a Sunday morning rather than evening, during the Sunday school hour, followed by the Harvest Potluck.  Turn out indicated it is a preferred time.

December | The children presented the Ohio premier of the Christmas play “Angels in the choir.”  Advent worship encouraged us to consider Mary as a model for inner sanctuary.  Coloring pages optional.

Blessings as this new year unfolds.  I’m especially grateful for all the unscheduled and unseen ways you practice caring community with one another.


Sunday’s Epiphany sermon, “Behold: Stars, Child, Church” is now posted.

Real place, real people


As we approach Christmas, we remember that Bethlehem is a real place with real people whose struggles are not dissimilar from Roman occupied Palestine in the first century.  We also remember that the nativity story, and the subsequent response of Herod, is a story of sanctuary, forced migration, and every day families subject to the violent whims of powerful state actors.

Below are two images that the Mennonite Palestine Israel Network (MennoPIN) is inviting us to ponder this year.  Both are new works by the street artist Banksy in Bethlehem.  Note the crowbar in the hands of the angel attempting to create an opening in the separation wall.  The “Peace on Earth*” sign with the Christmas star asterisk is on the door of a new business venture: “The Walled Off Hotel,” which boasts “The worst view in the world,” the towering concrete separation wall around Bethlehem.  It hopes to bring in Israeli and international tourists, providing jobs and drawing attention to the daily life of locals living in the Occupied Territories.

Below that is an image of Jose y Maria (Joseph and Mary) by the artist Everett Patterson.  See how many nativity references you can find (e.g., Mary’s sweatshirt says “Nazareth High School.”)

This is our world.  Today.

So too is the astounding birth of Jesus who proclaimed a kingdom defined by loving kindness and justice.  So too is the persistence of a people who believe that the angelic proclamation of “peace on earth” is our life’s work and hope.


Banksy, Bethlehem


You just got an award

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Last evening four of us from CMC attended the annual Faith in Public Life celebration, downtown.  Faith in Public Life is a national organization with several state chapters, including Ohio.  In Columbus they convene a monthly faith leaders breakfast which I attend, have been active in addressing the need for crisis intervention training for city police, and have been in the center of the swirl of our sanctuary work, especially in relating with the media.

Last evening, on behalf of you all, we accepted their award of “Faith Community of the Year.”  It was their way of acknowledging this congregation’s willingness to risk stepping forward in offering sanctuary to Edith and the Espinal family, highlighting the plight of immigrant families in our community.  As a gift, we received this plaque with the quote from King.

FLP award, MLK Jr. quote

This reminds me of the joke about the person given a button for being the most humble, but had it taken away because she wore it.  We’ve joked a bit in the office about how we as humble Mennonites might display this (In a closet in the basement?), but are opting to hang it in the foyer, at least for now.  Unfortunately, the gender exclusive language from the 60’s remains.

This has always been primarily about Edith, and answering the call to be in solidarity with her family.  But we can receive this as a sign of gratitude from the wider faith community, challenging all of us to better live out our convictions as sanctuary people.  With Mary as our guide this Advent, I think about her visit to Elizabeth soon after she accepted the call to carry the Christ child.  She knew if she was going to do this, she needed support and companionship.  Elizabeth greets her with the words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of our womb,” assuring her that she is not crazy.  Even though she doesn’t know what she’s gotten herself into, she is and will be blessed, and others will be blessed through her.  And Elizabeth will be by her side all the while.

Blessed are you, Columbus Mennonite Church.  And blessed is the one who has found sanctuary within you.


Advent 2017


Advent begins this Sunday.  It’s a season of watchfulness, becoming like Mary, making space for Christ not only around us, but within us.  As a congregation we hear familiar texts and sing songs of the season that invite us deeper into the story.  Here are three things to know about Advent with CMC this year:

+ Worship Theme

For the last two months we’ve been contemplating what it means to be Sanctuary People.  Advent will build on this focus with the theme Inner Sanctuary.  We will look to Mary as the primary model of one who made her life a sanctuary, her body a place for God to dwell.  We’ve written a brief Sanctuary prayer that we’ll pray in English and Spanish to begin each service.  We’ve invited other congregations to pray this with us.  The adult choir and children are preparing music and performance for the weekend of December 16-17.  Because December 24th is a Sunday this year, our annual Christmas Eve evening service will be the only service that day.

+ Coloring = Prayer

The SALT Project has produced some lovely resources based on five coloring pages, designed specifically for Advent.  Each one features Mary in a different stage of pregnancy and expectation, surrounded by life and images from the biblical stories.  In large poster form, these will serve as the backdrop of our worship setting.  In coloring page form, they will be available in your church mailbox and in the foyer to take home and enjoy – children and adults.  Please take as many as you need.  We hope you can decorate your home with them.  We’re also asking you to bring some finished pages back to the church and place in a box in the foyer so they can add color to our Advent worship environment.  I’m attaching the first two coloring pages below in case you wish to print at home and get a head start.  For adults not already in a Sunday school class, feel free to join me during that hour in the fellowship hall December 3, 10, and 17 for coloring and conversation.  Finally, along with the posters and coloring pages, there are devotional booklets that include the images, poetry by Mary Oliver and Howard Thurman, a brief meditation, and suggestions for weekly practices throughout Advent.

+ Giving Projects

For the next couple weeks there will be two boxes in the foyer, side-by-side, each for gift cards.  One collection is for the YWCA Family Center which is requesting cards in $25 increments from Walmart, Target, Meijer, or Giant Eagle which they will give to families in the community.  The other collection is for Edith and the Espinal family who would most benefit from cards from Kroger, Aldi, and Walmart.  Gifts cards have the benefit of giving families the opportunity to select items they most need and prefer.  An added bonus is that these can be ordered through the Convention Cash form, which enables a percentage of the gift to support our Youth Group.  This form is also attached, with orders due to Mary Blosser this Sunday (see tomorrow’s email announcements for more details).  If you don’t make that deadline, you can still talk with Mary, or get the gift cards directly from the store.

This Advent, may this be our prayer:

God our Sanctuary, grant us and our neighbors, near and far, courage in our hearts, peace in our homes, and justice in our streets.  Amen

Dios nuestro Santuario, concédenos y a nuestros vecinos, cercana y lejana, coraje en nuestros corazones, paz en nuestros hogares, y justicia en nuestras calles. Amen.



The trees are mostly bare,

but there is excess in these late-autumn days;

of food,

of memory,

of longing.

Time, in its fullness, spills backward and forward,

and with it thoughts of all

we have ever loved or hoped to love.

Gathered into one,

it is a feast of too much.

In this is heartache:

that we are such small

and troubled containers

for what is offered.

In this is gladness:

that we would parse one flavor from the many,

one warm gesture, one word,

again and again.

Assured that even the left overs can feed a multitude.


22 November 2017

5 Things We Want Our Boys to Become

  1. To be able to enjoy girls and women without having to control or possess them.
  2. To have meaningful and vulnerable relationships with other males.
  3. To have a lively internal life of reflection, meditation, and imagination.
  4. To respect elders and to become an elder worthy of respect.
  5. To channel passion and energy toward creative betterment of one’s community.


Earlier this week I was included on a group email from CMCer Matthew Leahy.  His young son is currently undergoing chemo treatment.  Matthew was reflecting on his son’s gentleness.  His gentleness, even while facing this awful disease.  The gentleness of this boy, in contrast to the deluge of male sexually predatorial behavior now coming to light across the country.

He posed this question: “How do we keep our boys precious, loving what is good, loving beauty, feminist. And yes, loving women in the purest way possible.  Is it possible?”

Later in the day the deluge continued when I came across more disheartening news.  Two Mennonite pastors who I know personally were recently charged with and confessed to sexual misconduct.  These were separate incidences.

In his message, Matthew turned his question into an aspiration and challenge.  A campaign: “5 Things We Want Our Boys to Become.”  As parents, grandparents, mentors, uncles and aunts, and citizens, how do we answer this question?

The list above was my first crack at a response.

Of course these aspirations are not just for our boys, but for ourselves.  To hold our power in ways that uplift others rather than degrade.  To live as sexual beings within the commitments and boundaries that make for healthy relationships.  To be the kind of person we hope the beloved boys in our lives might become.

With Matthew’s permission I am passing along his challenge and campaign.  If any of you wish to send me your list of “5 Things We Want Our Boys to Become” I will add it to the end of this blog post on our website and include a link in a future blog for folks to view updates.  If you can’t come up with 5, send what you’ve got.