When I was a young adult volunteer in Jamaica, part of Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, I brought a pie to a Mennonite church-sponsored baking competition and was disqualified because my mango pie did not fit the unstated criteria of being a sweet potato pudding. I realized that day my definition of “Mennonite baking” is not everyone’s definition. Pie is delicious, and sweet potato pudding is delicious, and both are Mennonite desserts. That long-ago experience has been a helpful metaphor for me to remember that all of us hold unspoken assumptions about what it means to belong in the body of Christ.
As I write this, I anticipate joining the Mennonite Church Canada Gathering in Edmonton, and I have been inspired and challenged by joining in virtually with the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Assembly in Indonesia. These gatherings are celebrations of what we hold in common and serve as reminders of the very real differences that exist between us.
One of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s stated priorities is to embrace diversity by inviting and challenging the church to explore the variety and richness of God’s people. This is not a new priority for Jesus-followers. The Apostle Paul’s letters, and the experiences of the early church, show how Christians have been wrestling with this for over two thousand years. I get a strong feeling of hope from knowing that the early church was full of conflict and division, and yet the Spirit was at work through this ever-expanding and diversifying group of Jesus-followers. The same Spirit is at work among us today.
Paul addresses the divisions and conflicts by emphasizing that our unity in Christ needs diversity within it, and that it is the Spirit that brings us together through our divisions. He repeatedly uses the metaphor of a body with many members and reminds the early Christians he is writing to that there are various gifts and ministries through which we serve the same Spirit. There is space for difference, and we need to own and celebrate those differences and the variety of gifts they bring, within the body. 1 Cor 12:22 highlights the idea that even those members of the body which seem less important are in fact indispensable.
César García, MWC General Secretary, calls us to live in communion together as the body of Christ, across the many barriers that divide us. Empowered by the Spirit, in communion together we are countering relationships of domination and oppression by embracing mutuality, interdependence and shared responsibility.
Our gatherings are a chance to live this communion in a microcosm, to be a glimpse of the New Creation. We do not always get this right. We fail over and over again. My prayer is that we have the courage to keep trying, and the wisdom to create the space for diversity in our unity.
Leah Reesor-Keller lives in Kitchener, Ont., and serves as executive minister for MC Eastern Canada. She has made mango pie in Jamaica and pumpkin pie in Nepal but can’t remember making a pie in Canada since her teenage days working in her family’s farm market bakery.