One of the identified priorities for Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) is embracing diversity. With this priority, we articulate our intention to:
“Invite and challenge the church to explore the variety and richness of God’s people. This will require transformation of our hearts, minds, policies and structures as we live out our calling to be a diverse, inclusive and intercultural church body.”
We want the ways in which we embody our mission to be a reflection of the diversity we find within MCEC, because we believe that diversity is at the core of who God is. Ephesians 3:10 says it is God’s plan that, “through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known.” The wisdom of God is “rich” in “variety” according to the NRSV; or “manifold” according to the NIV. Synonyms for “manifold” include: numerous, many, multiple, multifarious, multitudinous. There is a spaciousness to God’s wisdom that far surpasses anything we could ever ask or imagine!
In light of the multitudinous riches of God’s wisdom, why is it so hard for us to embrace diversity?
So many of our conflicts and disagreements grow out of the diverse ways in which we see faith, hold our beliefs or interpret the Bible. They grow out of our diverse experiences of life, culture, language and ethnicity. Sometimes our conflicts even grow out of the diversity that lies within each of us; the competing values and beliefs from childhood that no longer hold for us, or the dissonance between what we value and how we live.
It is easy to point to the other as the source of challenge when navigating the many kinds of diversity we encounter. However, it is valuable to first examine what is going on within, and allow God’s wisdom to speak to us. This has been, for me, the longest and hardest journey toward understanding diversity.
While it is helpful to understand the “rich variety” not just of God’s wisdom, but of diversity itself, in MCEC we do not want to only understand diversity, but to embrace it. Another quick word study provides synonyms that give some images with which to play: hug, hold, welcome, accept, take to one’s heart.
I am grateful that in my role as Church Leadership Minister, I have the opportunity to practice humility and experience joy in welcoming, accepting, taking to heart and embracing diversity. I also have the privilege of witnessing diversity being welcomed, accepted, taken to heart, held and embraced. Hearing stories of pain and struggle in the journey of embracing diversity has signalled that it is easier to embrace some spaces of diversity than other spaces of diversity.
Worshipping with congregations that are at the beginning of a journey toward becoming intercultural and experiencing the power of music to cross cultures and enter hearts has been powerful. Walking with pastors as we work to understand each other across language and practice has been humbling and rewarding.
We journey with God, whose grace and wisdom are multitudinous! Friends, that is good news!
Marilyn Rudy-Froese serves as church leadership minister for Mennonite Church Eastern Canada.