Decline easily gives rise to lament and worry. Is there an alternative? Perhaps this is the time to consider exploring renewal of our covenant with God.
At a recent Mennonite Church Manitoba staff meeting, Norm Voth, director of evangelism and service ministries, began his opening devotional with the words: “I love my [Mennonite] church.”
He had just returned from Chiara House, where he had been helping alongside others of “my church” to clean up the mess left by an arsonist’s fire. Chiara House is a project of MC Manitoba and Little Flowers Church in downtown Winnipeg, creating housing for those with residency difficulties.
“Not everything about the church is nice,” he said. “But these are my people, my covenant community. I love my church.”
All of us staff were moved by the simplicity of the statement and the quiet conviction with which it was said.
It was a moment for all of us to do our own soul searching. Not everything was going smoothly with summer camp preparations, with many vacancies yet to be filled. Not everything was heavenly in the church leadership department, with pastor vacancies, church conflicts and other matters to be dealt with. But in the end, I suspect that not one of us would have uttered anything different than Voth in saying, “I love my church.”
“I love my church.” In reflecting on that devotional, I wondered where the ability to make that statement came from. I couldn’t help but think of God inviting people into covenant over and over as an expression of his unending love: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Covenant begins and ends with God. God calls people out of slavery and into covenant using stone tablets (Exodus 19-20). God is faithful when people are not. Renewal of covenant happens repeatedly through God’s grace and forgiveness. Jesus fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant of the heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34) by inviting into covenant all that would follow him as his disciples: “Abide in me, and I will abide in you” (John 15.4).
The resulting covenant community—throughout the generations—is invited to renew broken covenant by worship and communion, “the new covenant in my blood.” One day faithfulness to covenant will result in God’s face-to-face fellowship with all who responded to his invitation to be in covenant with him.
What gives us hope?
One author, reflecting on Menno Simons, indicated, “When we renew our baptismal vow, all other vows have a way of falling into place.” As baptism is the individual’s submission to Christ and his body, so the Lord’s Supper is renewal of the covenant community with the head of the church: a reminder of the “new covenant in my blood.” Hence, the call to covenant renewal involves both the baptized individual and the church communally.
Pondering covenant making, breaking and renewing is leading me to a deepening personal journey of covenant relationship with Christ, but also lovingly inviting our MC Manitoba community and beyond to consider doing the same.
Henry Kliewer is Mennonite Church Manitoba’s director of Leadership Ministries.