It’s difficult to pinpoint just what made Assembly 2012 in Vancouver earlier this month a standout. Its rich textured fabric made it a many-splendored thing that made you want to dance despite the heavy theme of “Dusting off the Bible for the 21st Century.”
Dusting off the Bible we did. 21st Century it was.
Was the flash point when Tom Yoder Neufeld, dropping his scholarly demeanour, and taking on the role of the actor, grabbed the Bible with both hands at the podium as plenary speaker and, noted with some drama that, like Jesus’ writing in the sand when her accusers wanted the adulterer’s head, he would say to us: READ? Or write it, in big, bold letters, in the sand?
Or was it humourist Ted Swartz on video, mimicking Josiah in his Yiddish accent as he was squirreled away in the inner sanctums of the Temple, pretending to be an underground mole in discovering, with a female compatriot, the new word of the Lord? Or when slowly, with much deliberation, making a bologna and cheese sandwich as a story-teller of the strange happenings on the road to Emmaus, punctuating the Jesus’ experience with an invitation to EAT?
Or maybe it was the swirling grace and beauty of the Chinese dancers on stage at the barbecue put on by Peace Mennonite Church as we took a break from deep biblical mining and scarfed down steak, sausages and peppermint chocolate ice cream?
Perhaps it was an off-campus event, as it were, to hear Gareth Brandt read the Holy Word in front of a city monument on the streets of downtown Vancouver while passers-by wondered, and listened, to this strange prophet of the 21st Century as he read the ancient text straightaway without comment or pulpit-pounding, making room for a sacred space in a rushing, Facebook-driven world. Or more in the vernacular—putting shoe leather on the gospel.
Or was it when we discovered the hidden musical talent of our moderator, Andy Reesor-McDowell, when with his wife, Joanna, and members of a pick-up band belted out Hank Williams’ “Dust on the Bible,” to the accompaniment of banjo and guitar? Who would have known that this statesman, with the patience of Job and the seriousness of Josiah, had a secret love for the rhythm and blues of country music?
For sure, it must have been when our hearts were torn asunder when Aboriginal Kwitsel Tatel wept as she told her agonizing story to those of us attending the workshop Sacred Scripture in Invaded Space—a story of unconscionable harassment by federal officials in exercising her right to fish in the Fraser River and the bravery with which she has defended herself in court over a harsh eight-year period.
Or did not our hearts burn within us as Sheila Klassen-Wiebe dug deeply into the passages of II Kings and Luke, revealing the good intentions but spiritual blindness of God’s people in both the Old and New Testament narrative, and challenging us with our own blindness and 21st Century idols in her “So What” conclusions each day?
Yes, even the art gallery told the story of women heroes of the Bible. And the hallways echoed with conversation and stories shared among friends, connections made, networks broadened, not to mention the moving along of the Being a Faithful Church process that will now have congregations delving more deeply into discernment.
Farewell and shalom
With some sadness we say farewell to Andrew Reesor-McDowell as moderator of Mennonite Church Canada, who with this Assembly, is taking leave of the post after four years. Andy, the ultimate statesman, has shown grace, patience and a whole lot of wisdom, as he directed a difficult discernment process, fielded our questions, celebrated our diversity and differences and brought calm, often, to troubled waters. His successor, Hilda Hildebrand, says it best: “He invites all into the conversation, then from a diverse range of perspectives, thoughtfully seeks to weave together the threads of common ground, testing as he goes along to ensure integrity.” Farewell and Godspeed, Andy. We will miss you. And a soft landing to the strains of Hank Williams as you take your leave!