From July 3-6, our extended family of faith gathers underneath the Assembly “tent.” We welcome newcomers and greet old friends, drawing closer together through praise, worship, prayer, thought-provoking speakers and group discernment on matters of faith and life. Our time together culminates by sharing communion under one roof.
Not so long ago, many families spent their summer vacations camping their way to “Conference.” Whether or not this was your experience, it captures a sense of our collective story as a pilgrim people from many backgrounds, sharing a clear purpose and common destination. It is with gratitude that we have become an increasingly culturally diverse people bonded by love and united in spirit.
The tent offers a beautiful metaphor for the church. Diverse people are drawn through openings around its perimeter and into the shelter provided by its simple, impermeable membrane. That membrane is created from the fabric of smaller tents, woven from threads tinged by lament and celebration. Those threads tell stories of binding, loosing and adjusting that become intricate parts of the larger organic whole.
We’ve all felt 21st century winds tug at the tent pegs. Life under the canvas can be unsettling. Yet amidst storm clouds, we remain faithfully committed to carrying out God’s mission for the church. Collectively, we discern challenges and seek the voice of God amid spiritual unrest and ferment. In our gathering, we seek to listen with open hearts and to share our thoughts in ways that encourage and support one another. We join together, building up the body.
This year, our conversations include the ongoing work of two task forces that depend on our ability to respectfully listen with patience and open hearts and minds. Our Being the Faithful Church Task Force (BFC) and the Future Directions Task Force (FDTF) will provide updates on their work before inviting dialogue and “testing” to help shape steps going forward.
Mennonite Church Canada’s preferred approach to decision-making is consensus building, yet we know this is not easy. We recognize that within the tent, community life may not always reflect the particular uniformity of understanding we as individuals prefer. Some issues may be passionately held and debated, while other differences may be more readily absorbed. How do we respond to people with materially different understandings from our own, who also with integrity, confess Jesus as Lord and seek to be faithful to Christ’s message? How do we engage one another in love with the same grace, compassion, patience and forbearance that God extends to each one of us?
Winds of uncertainly swirl within and around our tent. And it makes life uncomfortably messy, just as it was for the early church.
As the community worshipfully prepares to gather for Assembly 2014, may we prayerfully embrace the work God calls us to with humility and joy, fully trusting in the Spirit’s leading.
Hilda A. Hildebrand is moderator of Mennonite Church Canada, General Board.
--Posted June 18, 2014