This winter on an evening journey to the airport, I encountered a substantial snow storm. Strong winds drove heavy snow across the roads. Even with my eyes wide open I was blinded, unable to see the front of my car. I inched forward without any idea where the road was. I didn’t know if I was wandering into the oncoming lane or edging towards the ditch—an extremely unnerving experience.
It is not easy navigating a storm. Sight is limited. Knowledge is inadequate. Understanding is incomplete.
I felt vulnerable.
The storm image seemed like a fitting theme for the assembly in Winnipeg from July 2 to 6. More than 500 delegates and guests gathered to engage the work of the church and study the account of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:35-41. The story of the disciples’ fear resonated with many. With waves threatening to swamp the boat, fear seemed understandable. Much less understandable is the way Jesus swept aside fear as evidence of an underdeveloped faith. Surely one cannot be blamed for fearing potential disaster?
Assembly participants considered the parallel between the disciples’ experience on a stormy sea and the changing context for the church in Canada. Familiar waters have been replaced with uncertain and rising waves. What we always considered to be truth is no longer common knowledge or accepted practice. People are discerning faithfulness differently.
For many, this new context of questioning is disconcerting. It feels like the church is drifting in a sea of compromise. Some resonate easily with the disciples, feeling as though the church is being buffeted by intense waves. Discerning eyes widen, peering for some sign of God’s assuring presence. And all the while Jesus seems asleep in the stern, head tucked into a soft pillow. Like the disciples, we want to awaken Jesus and say, “Don’t you care if we drown?”
Mark 4:35-41 is an appropriate text. It is a fitting story for the church to wrestle with. But as assembly unfolded further, I began to wonder if we are misreading our context. Perhaps it is not a threat as much as it is a challenge. A threat conjures up impulses of defence, while challenges stir preparedness for thoughtful and rigorous engagement.
In my encounter with the church, few youth and young adults express fear regarding its future. From those who are not succumbing to apathy, I sense yearning for the church to pull away from the dock and sail into the sea. Many others would rather stay moored in the harbour and wait for the storm to pass. But our youth and young adults are calling for a more active engagement. Perhaps they are more comfortable with waves.
I left the assembly heartened and encouraged—not that the storm will pass, but that our ship is sufficiently sea-worthy. I left assured. When faith is in the boat with Jesus, the church is never threatened. So we can confidently prepare to engage unsettled waters ahead.
Willard Metzger is executive director of Mennonite Church Canada.