Twelve years ago, on beginning as conference minister of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, I described a painting of a small boat on a large body of water with these words inscribed below: “How frail my craft; how vast yon sea.”
I came to this role after 18 years in Toronto, 11 of those as pastor at Warden Woods, where the church often felt like a frail craft in a multicultural, multi-faith, high-density neighbourhood. There, I led weddings and funerals with Catholic priests, a Baptist pastor and a native elder, among others. After the tragic shooting of a youth shook the community, I led the community centre staff of various or no faiths in a day of reflecting on the spiritual questions left in the wake of that crisis. I had long conversations with a gay senior who had grown up in the Mennonite church and wondered what kind of welcome he would receive when he came back with his partner of 20 years after a long absence.
After that vast sea of diversity, MC Eastern Canada felt like a very little lake. Yet by God’s grace, I grew to love the lake with all its beauty and storms. One of my greatest joys has been collaborating with others to plan and birth the Transitioning into Ministry program that supports pastors as they launch out on their maiden voyages. It has been a sacred privilege to participate in the high holy moments when church and pastor say “yes” to ordination and to be the presence of Christ’s wider body through the low times when the bottom is falling out of the calling.
I have made my share of mistakes. But God has been gracious, and so have you. Often the risen Christ appeared in the face of a staff colleague, lay leader or pastor, or in the outstretched hand of a colleague from the wider church. Sometimes Jesus’ voice came through a spiritual director, friend or colleague from outside the Mennonite church. At other times, the Spirit gave new insight in the silence through Scripture, meditation and prayer.
Being a leader in today’s church is not easy. The sea in which we are sailing keeps changing. Fewer and fewer people know the story by which we steer our boat. Rural churches are shrinking with an aging population and the disappearance of small family farms. New churches, some of them recent immigrants, are asking to anchor themselves to the Anabaptist/Mennonite boat.
Our craft is frail and yon sea is vast. But if our spiritual keel is deep and we join with others, there’s no need to be afraid. If we listen deeply for the leading of the Spirit and hold tightly to the hand of the One who walks beside us on the sea, it’s surprising how much love, wisdom and strength God provides: more than enough for all we are called to be and do. Thanks be to God who takes all our meagre and best efforts, and makes of them something far more beautiful than we can ask or imagine!