In warmer months, a circle of seven or so adults gathers in my backyard on Sunday afternoons. We earnestly discuss Scripture, share the highs and lows of our lives, ask what God may be saying to us this afternoon. We pray. We pass bread and glasses of grape juice. Sometimes we even sing.
I sat there one afternoon, thinking how very good this gathering is. These past months have been anything but easy. Members of the group have faced crises and decisions big and little, and we've drawn close together to support one another. Others have shared the pains and wrongs facing neighbours nearby and across borders. We’ve prayed and sought concrete ways to help. We’ve celebrated together. We haven't been alone.
I looked out and I thought, “This is good, and it would be so good for other folks, too.” I believe that. I truly believe that this sort of close community, this sort of opening of our hearts to one another and to the world, is something fundamentally good for every person. For me, this is the heart of evangelism: the realization that this Jesus-community is truly good news that brings healing and hope.
I've had the same thought as I've visited the congregations of Mennonite Church Saskatchewan. As the regional church’s church engagement minister, I've been able to listen in at church council meetings and to lead conversations on Sunday mornings about what fills the calendars, hearts, and hopes of our congregations. I hear stories and I think, “This is good, and it would be so for other folks, too.” Healing and hope are scattered and gathered throughout our province.
These gatherings embody an alternative to the isolation that locks many in loneliness, to the self-enclosed concerns that keep many from ever seeing their neighbours’ desperate circumstances, to the despair that holds many from glimpsing hope. In the close circle of our congregations, we practise carrying each other so that we're not caught by the lie that we each have to make it on our own. We keep our eyes open for where the world is hurting, we practise repenting, praying and trying to make things better. We hold on to joy even in hard times.
Our life together finds a beginning on Christmas. The same angels that sing, “Glory to God in highest heaven,” send the shepherds to gather near and share in this good news: “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” This newborn draws us all to himself and near to one another. It’s near him we find “good news that causes great joy for all the people.”
When I get mired in concerns for committees, bylaws and budgets, when I sink into worry for the logistics of church life, the community in my backyard pulls me back to hope, to the goodness of this gospel, to joy. “This is good; this is so very good.”
Josh Wallace is a backyard church planter and educator in Saskatoon, Sask., in Treaty 6 Territory. He also serves as MC Saskatchewan’s church engagement minister.