These are our people

The Church Here and There

June 22, 2022 | Opinion | Volume 26 Issue 13
Arli Klassen | Columnist

We welcomed two babies and their families with words of blessing and commitment into our local congregation today. The wide-eyed babies took in all the people watching them and waving at them, with our pastors saying “Look, these are your people!”

We welcomed three adults as new members into our local congregation today, by transfer from the congregations that had nourished them for many years. We heard their faith stories, and the words of recommendation from the congregations that they came from. “Look, these are our people!”

We joyously celebrated the baptism of an adult who grew up in our local congregation, a person who had learned to know God more over the years, and who chose to say “Look, these are my people!”

We welcomed a visitor from eastern Congo, a Mennonite pastor, the father of a young family in our congregation who had not seen each other for 16 years. He confidently exclaimed, en français, that he knew this congregation: “Look, these are my people!”

Some of these new people in our congregation are Hispanic Mennonites. Some are Swiss Mennonites. Some are Congolese Mennonites. Some might not use any of those labels. All declared, “Look, these are our people!”

Each of these individuals is connected to our local congregation by at least two generations. Each has children, or grandchildren, or parents (in-law) or grandparents already rooted in our local congregation. I am intrigued that family relationships carry so much value, and yet at the same time each person could declare, together: “Look, these are all my people!”

What makes it possible for each adult and each family to confidently stand (even with trepidation) in front of all of us and declare their commitment to follow Jesus together with us all? It is not an easy thing to do and is certainly countercultural in a time and context when official “membership” in many things is waning. (Except for loyalty to your sports team—then it is easy to publicly declare one’s loyalty and encouragement.)

I loved being part of the joyous response to each person—babies and adults. This is what it means to be a community of faith together! It is a commitment, a public declaration of belonging, with affirmation and encouragement from the entire community.

I wonder: If I were to visit the Mennonite church in Colombia, or the one from rural Ontario, or the one in eastern Congo where these newcomers came from, would I also be able to declare: “Look, these are my people!”?

I will be in Indonesia by the time you read this. Will it be easy to declare at the Mennonite World Conference General Council and Assembly: “Look, these are our people!”? We will struggle to understand each other’s languages. We will know different worship songs. We will try to understand our diverse cultural contexts and how they impact our worldviews and our spirituality. We will interact with church leaders who wish we would be far more unified in our theology. It will be a challenge.

And yet, I go to Indonesia, proclaiming publicly and with joy: “Look, these are my people!” As a person who is not rooted anywhere, who moved around throughout my childhood and adult life, I delight to know that I belong. These are my people. These diverse people are my people. My theological understandings do not match many of theirs. My preferred worship style is somewhere in between many of theirs. And yet, I belong. So do you. Look, these are our people!

Arli Klassen is a member of First Mennonite Church, Kitchener, and a staff member with Mennonite World Conference.

Read more The Church Here and There columns:
What holds us together?
Meetinghouses
A difficulty for all of us
Civil disobedience
Communion with creation

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