Wild with a paint brush

July 24, 2013 | Viewpoints
Carol Penner |

The pictures I coloured in grade school were neat and tidy, coloured within the lines. Darker lines marked the borders, every section clearly separated from the other; emerald green, lemon yellow and sky blue, each in their place.

Church was like that too. I was a Mennonite. My friend was a Catholic; I wasn’t sure that was even Christian. Every family filed out on Sunday morning to their own section, with clearly marked boundaries. Lutheran, Reformed, Pentecostal, United, each in their own place. The majority of people stayed within the lines, married within the lines and worshipped within the lines.

How different things are today. In my own small church, the lines are blurry. A family that goes to mass every Sunday then comes to our worship service. A couple who grew up here, then worshipped with a local community church for a few years, have now drifted back. Or the family of long-time attenders now makes a Pentecostal church their home. People who grew up in the Mennonite Brethren church, now worship with us. Our former pastor became an Anglican priest. And that’s just in one small congregation. We see this happening all over the church.

“Denominational loyalty” is fading. We raise the alarm, and worry about the bleeding of our members into other churches. We lament the lack of clear identity, and the loss of long-term commitment. What will this mean for the budget?

At the same time we step back and think about what this means. People see more clearly the unity of God’s body. It’s not bleeding, it’s called circulation. There is more that holds us together than divides us. Lemon yellow can morph into sky blue and create something unique. One Lord, one church, one baptism. Lots of colours, but they’re all in the spectrum of grace.

I spoke recently with a young man whose mother was Catholic and father was Mennonite. He grew up attending both churches, feeling equally at home in both, a foot in each community. He feels the division between these churches on a gut level, and he has such a deep longing for co-operation, for dialogue.

There are more and more people like this who embody ecumenism, God’s longing for unity.

The sky is filled with dashes of lemon yellow and emerald green, like a Van Gogh painting. Close up it seems chaotic, but step back and it will take your breath away. The blurry school of church membership has its own charms.

How many churches do you drive by on your way to worship? What would happen if you stopped this summer at the closest one, and went in. You might get a peek at God’s palette. Next time you drive by that church, the word “brother” or “sister” might come to mind. God dearly loves emerald green, sky blue and lemon yellow, but God is wild with a paintbrush.

Carol Penner is the MC Eastern Canada representative on the MC Canada General Board.

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