I don’t think clearly when I’m anxious. I need to be reminded to slow down and breath deeply. Doing so creates the space wherein I can regain a sense of clarity, so that whatever decisions I make are helpful and life-giving.
Perhaps this nugget of self-awareness is one that we’d do well to attend to as a church. We speak the language of hope, yet too often live our days as anxious and fretting people. Our fretting ranges from concern about the trivial to the most profound: from, “Who is the boss of the church kitchen?” to, “Will our children discover a faith that is vibrant and relevant?” We’d be well-served if we’d first determine what’s really worthy of our fretting and let the rest go, as chaff to the wind.
In conversation with constituent congregations, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada Executive Council and staff have heard a renewed call for spiritual depth and new ways of being church that are grounded in our identity as an Anabaptist/Mennonite people. Such foundational concerns are most certainly worthy of our fretting, yet often our anxiety gets away on us.
We are anxious about our children, our youths and young adults; about the declining levels of biblical literacy; about getting enough people to fill the pews and to fill the slate of church officers; about declining financial support for the church; about how to welcome newcomers; about how to appease old-timers; about what it means to be a missional church.
Between the lines of our long list of anxieties, the question of who we are as an Anabaptist/Mennonite people remains, and is worthy of our fretting.
Like individuals, as a church we don’t think clearly when anxious. We metaphorically, and sometimes literally, point fingers and blame others for our lost corporate sense of who we are and what matters most. As a church we need to slow down and breathe deeply in order to create the space wherein we will find our way together, aware of, and responsive to, the nudging of God’s Spirit.
This formative work is for the whole of God’s people. It’s about having real conversations across generations about the anxieties that matter and the hopes that are real. It’s about rediscovering the Scripture’s timely surprises, wisdom and guidance. It is about listening well to the stories of others, so that we might be inspired, compassionate and aware of the places where our own stories connect. It is about choosing a spacious way of prayer, attentiveness and reflection. It is about welcoming new voices into our conversations, receiving the truths, challenges and opportunities that they represent.
As we attend to this formative work, both individually and as communities of God’s people across the generations, our anxious fretting will truly be about that which matters. There will be clarity, perspective and a way forward as we rediscover our home and our way as God’s people.
Jeff Steckley is MC Eastern Canada’s congregational ministries minister.