The Oct. 24 Mennonite Church Canada study conference asked the question: “Does the church have legs?”
The consensus of conference presenters, based on mini-interviews posted prior to the event, was “yes.” I’m trying to tame my cynicism, but that answer seemed too easy. I know people who would say “no.”
I don’t usually participate in broader church events. Life’s full. I limit travel. My kids like to have me around. I can’t sit still inside for long. I justify my non-participation by saying I’m relating to others in our denomination—the majority—who do not attend such events.
But I am also deeply interested in the broader church. At least part of me is. I see phenomenal potential. Our world needs grace, compassion, upside-down living. That’s our bailiwick.
Another part of me has learned to dull my expectations, to expect ever-so-slightly new twists on that which I have heard since I was a kid numbly counting knots in the sanctuary’s roof boards. One of the first things I learned in church was to be bored.
I participated in the October study conference, at least much of it, because Zoom made it easy—I didn’t even need to change out of my work clothes—and I needed something to write about for my next magazine deadline. Of course, any journalist knows that conferences are not news per se, but I hoped for something reportable. I hoped for something truly invigorating.
At some point in life I lost the ability to conjure a sense of meaningfulness out of ordinary theological statements. It just doesn’t do anything for me to hear that “Jesus is God,” or “Church is a body.” Tell me what that looks like on a Tuesday afternoon.
Share your burning questions. Show some fire in the belly. Share your pain. Be personal. Be candid. Go off script (like that Mennonite Brethren guy).
I’m being too harsh. I mean this as more of a plea than a critique. I commend the organizers climbing the steep COVID-19 hill.
As for legs, the numbers are clear. All the folks who have left, or barely show up anymore, have rendered their verdict. Can we say that?
We gotta dig deeper. And we’re not going to exegete our way to renewal. We’re not going to think and theologize our way to a thriving church.
I have a few unsolicited suggestions, things that would get me to an event:
- Anabaptists in the Global South. I believe that’s where our salvation lies. What message do they have for us?
- Non-Euro-Canadian churches within MC Canada. They did not tune in to the conference. What gifts do they offer? Can we connect with them on their terms?
- More circles. Perhaps the essential wisdom is in the circle, not at the front of the room. (Admittedly, Zoom is ill-suited to the priesthood of all believers.)
- I feel church should be a place for people’s pains and passions. Let’s learn to create space for those.
- I’d love to hear us wrestle with what good news we have to share with Indigenous people. I speak regularly with Indigenous leaders who fight desperately, urgently, at the edge of despair to overcome immense injustice perpetrated for the benefit of the rest of society. Would they say we have legs?
- I’d love it if the church could offer my kids some support through their climate angst. While working in the garden a year ago, my son, who was 12 at the time, said something like: “If people care about climate change, why don’t they do anything about it?” His comment was directed, in part, at church folks.
I told him that people do lots of other good things, and then acknowledged that there was no answer to his question. Nothing I could say would change the reality that he sees precious few making significant sacrifices.
My kids are no Greta Thunbergs, but their climate angst is real. It’s a loneliness. What support can the faith community offer them? What legs do they see?
It made me mad and sad—mostly mad—to hear a presenter address the climate crisis by talking about “reinterpreting our theologies to be more sensitive and aware of creation.” Seriously?
- And I’d love a support forum for those of us struggling to maintain a grip on faith, having gone through the wringer of postmodernity. We need more than theological intricacies.
I shared this list with a pastor. He said it made him feel tired. He sounded exhausted. The demands on leaders are great. I had not thought of that. I can’t expect all of this from one event. I’d like to expect some of it, though.
Feast of Metaphors served at ‘Table talk’ conference