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Pittsburgh Examen…

July 13, 2011

Mennonites from across the United States traveled to Pittsburgh last week for our biennial assembly.  We gathered as children, youth and adults of all ages.  We gathered to worship, to connect and to discern together the mind of the Spirit as we seek our missional vocation in the world.  Here is an examen of the week in a bit of a stream of consciousness style.

Gratitude for the Pastor’s Day gathering…for the holy informality and musical gift of Brad Yoder who channelled Mary Oyer and led us on various journeys with the same song (i.e. “Somebody prayed for me“)…for the stories and challenge shared by Mary Thiessen-Nation…for the vision and challenge of John Stahl-Wert…stories about bridges out of poverty…about kingdom vocations extending into the private sector of for-profit business…for a theology of place which has taken root in Pittsburgh and flourished through the ministries of Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, Pittsburgh Mennonite Church, PULSE and Fernando’s Cafe…for the acknowledgement of mutual treasures across various Christian traditions and between the church and business leaders.

Gratitude for the story of welcoming the stranger at Habeckers…of the stranger becoming us.

Gratitude for the overall spirit of the gathering in Pittsburgh. I sensed a shift from a greater level of anxiety and divisiveness at Columbus 2009. Gratitude for the Pittsburgh Experiment that seemed to open up a different space and a different way of being together as delegates.  The space was more about communal discernment than Robert’s rules. Gratitude for the grace manifested at delegate table 19 as we dwelled in the word, listened to stories, and worked together at discernment.

Gratitude for a creative space that allowed for the prophetic voice to speak from the front and the back of the ballroom.  In awe of the diversity of gifts and callings among the people of God.  Stirred by a prophetic voice coming from a universalist trapped in an Anabaptist body.

Gratitude for the Anabaptist Missional Project

Gratitude for the naming of Christian Formation as a top priority for our denomination. This resonates with our discernment at a congregational level. Our church retreat in August is focusing on formational practices. As a leadership team we have begun working at three practices on regular basis (examen, lectio divina, centering prayer).  Considering the correlation between formation and missional capacity.

Gratitude for the renewed focus on the practice of reading scripture. I went to a seminar led by Mary Shertz that renewed my vision for strengthening the practice of reading scripture at Sunnyside Mennonite Church.  Visioning ways that scripture reading might be more than a practice in piety and self-righteous validation…wielded as a weapon against the other.  Gratitude for the living ways scripture comes alongside our experience as a companion in the work of healing and hope.

Gratitude for the presentations of Patty Shelly and Michael King and the affirmation that the scriptures contain a treasure for both charismatics and social justice types.

Gratitude for the way in which diverse gifts are shaping our corporate identity. Aware of the disorientation that goes with change. Gratitude for the space made for the gift of Natalie and the worship team from Calvary Mennonite Church (C3) leading music for adult worship. Gratitude for diverse voices telling missional stories–Indonesian pastor from Los Angeles…Sonido de Alabanza (a hispanic Mennonite congregation of 1,000+ in the Chicago area).

What does it mean for MCUSA to continue to grow into a diverse body that reflects the seeds of Anabaptism growing in many different cultural and ethnic contexts? What does this change mean for the way we sing together in large assemblies?  What does this mean as we work on hymnal projects?  Gratitude for these questions and challenges for a movement that is working for intercultural transformation…that is perhaps moving beyond a Eurocentric understanding of the gospel and our story.

Gratitude for a gathering of friends at Church Brew Works processing Convention…considering expressions of Christian formation that drink from the wells of the saints and honor male spirituality.  Gratitude for Stammtisch

Gratitude for the Conversation Room and particularly the conversation that took place on Thursday night regarding the church and sexual orientation. Gratitude for the Samoan circle process and the space it created for 200+ (my estimate) people with diverse views to be present with each other and listen to vulnerable stories. Gratitude for the gift of David Brubaker and the other facilitators.  Gratitude for Jennifer, Luke and Joe who stepped into the circle first.

For the first two hours it felt like an authentic space, where the community was able to hold the pain and messiness in a way that honored the other and expressed the ministry of love and reconciliation. I am not sure how we live into the metaphor of building bridges with the planks we remove from our eyes, but that time in the Conversation Room seemed to offer possibilities for doing this kind of work together.

Gratitude for the grace of Heather who gave her blessing for me to stay with this conversation even though it meant another solo effort for her at tending to the kids and walking back to the hotel.  Gratitude to be able to share the week together as a family.

Gratitude for the opportunity that my kids got to experience the richness of the broader Mennonite Church and make new friends…for the dedication and service of many (including Mike and Beth–Nate’s parents) who helped make this possible for Jr. High Youth and K-5 children.

Gratitude for the hymn sing on Thursday evening…for the gift of Michael Bishop…for a ballroom filled with bodies and t-shirts of many different colors…for God’s grace mediated through a sung tradition.

Gratitude for the gifts and graces manifested in Glen and Sue–adult worship leaders for the week…

Gratitude for Isaac, Betsy, Al and other gifted story-tellers/preachers who helped make visible the ministry of reconciliation in particular places…building a bridge between text and context…

Gratitude for the presence and message of our brother Danisa…for the story of reconciliation between Lutherans and Mennonites…for the work of Andre on interchurch relations…for the gift of relationship across the global church…

Gratitude for the MCC scarfs (which I believe make very nice stoles)…

Gratitude for the gifts and service of Ed and Dick…for the gift of Ted and Co…for the gift of laughter…

Gratitude for the times of hearing Spanish throughout the week and for the gifts and call of Elizabeth into the role of moderator-elect.

Gratitude for Ervin Stutzman…for the annointing service on Friday evening…for many gifted servant-leaders in MCUSA…

Gratitude for the church (MCUSA and beyond) through whom God’s purpose is to show his wisdom in all its rich variety to all the rulers and authorities…

Gratitude for all the gifts of God in creation…for this day

I welcome your contributions to this Examen in the comments section…

13 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2011 7:45 am

    Brian, great reflections. I appreciate hearing your perspectives.


  2. July 13, 2011 8:20 am

    Brian I wasnt in the adult or delegate sessions so thank you for the insight and how it went. Thursday was a powerful evening for myself as well as I watched what was “an issue” become faces and people with pain and joy and a longing for love and community. I desire so much to find a way forward and a new imagination for what is possible and to be faithful to scripture in a manner that brings life and Jesus and no more pain and fear.
    This was one of the best conventions I have been to in a long time and I am excited for the future of Mennonite Church USA.

  3. sheldon permalink
    July 13, 2011 8:44 am

    Gratitude for the energy, passion and focus of our youth, who will carry this beautiful mess we call church into the future.

  4. Carolyn M. permalink
    July 13, 2011 12:42 pm

    Gratitude for this blog that brings me and others who were not present a taste of the experiences that have influenced you and others in the congregation and church.

  5. just an apprentice permalink
    July 13, 2011 12:49 pm

    I am least grateful for the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in my food consumption last week.

  6. just an apprentice permalink
    July 13, 2011 12:49 pm

    I lament that there was not a young adult at my delegate table.

  7. just an apprentice permalink
    July 13, 2011 12:49 pm

    I lament that there were not more brothers and sisters of color represented at Pittsburgh.

  8. just an apprentice permalink
    July 13, 2011 12:51 pm

    Aware of the voice who wondered what it means that very few people wearing pink represented our brothers and sisters of color. I heard the voices of our brothers and sisters of color who felt threatened by the presence of pink menno. I lament that any brothers and sisters of color would experience a lack of safety because of pink mennonites at Pittsburgh.

  9. July 13, 2011 9:19 pm

    This is beautiful, Brian. Like a litany of thanksgiving, yet also a very good summary of the week. I love this approach you took. Indeed, there was much to be thankful for.

    I too wish there were more persons of color at convention, and indeed in our congregations. Making declarations and even setting quotas are well-meaning, but the best scenario would be for more of us to invite those different than us to our churches, befriending them in the process.

    Something I am hesitant to share is a inward question that developed from the forum on sexual orientation and particularly the impassioned traditional message by the African American brother. He seemed to be building a case that minorities were not the ones wearing pink. So my question is, “Will the increase of African Americans and Hispanics in our denomination (a good thing!) mean that there will be less tolerance for gays and lesbians? Perhaps that is a reactionary question, but one that I had.

    • just an apprentice permalink
      July 14, 2011 5:43 am

      Tim: This is an important question. I thought the voice of the African American brother was heard and validated by another voice wearing pink. Perhaps it remains to be seen how we will tend to this conversation and respond to gays and lesbians as an increasingly diverse body. My hope is that I have not participated for the last time in a Samoan circle process. We were discussing our experience of this time at my delegate table on Saturday morning. One person named the need to deal with fear. I wonder what would happen…what fears might be exposed…if we would continue to provide this space at Convention, conferences, congregations. What might happen as we provide safe space for listening to each other, the Scriptures? My prayer is that our Hispanic and African American brothers and sisters continue to bring their gifts and voices into these spaces.

  10. Beth Jarrett permalink
    July 14, 2011 5:51 am

    Thank you for this beautiful reflection of our time together in Pittsburgh.

  11. Arthur permalink
    August 19, 2011 1:37 am

    Brian, I’ve kept tabs on this blog for a few years and always appreciated your sensical prose and passion for your ministry. This post is no exception; the reflection of the Pittsburgh convention was lovely and a good reminder to keep things in a positive perspective.

    I was especially interested in your perception of the conversation room on sexual orientation – you write that “it felt like an authentic space, where the community was able to hold the pain and messiness in a way that honored the other and expressed the ministry of love and reconciliation” and described the Samoan circle as a place that “people with diverse views [could] be present with each other”.

    Since you seem to be describing your experience as honestly as you can, I feel compelled to mention that some did not perceive that particular conversation room or its format to be a safe space or reconciliatory in the least.

    The Samoan circle certainly has its place in mediation – but I would suggest it is better suited to a context in which A) time is not of issue, and individuals have the opportunity (or communal obligation) to stay in the circle longer, and B) the topic of discussion has been carefully looked at in terms of power (is there an imbalance? who holds it? how can we make a conversation safe for those on the wrong end of the power balance?).

    In this case, I noticed that the Samoan circle provided a pulpit for the extremists – indeed, an ideal one in which they were free to unload their prejudices and then immediately leave the seat without being held accountable to their words.

    I realize not everyone experienced the conversation this way; but we who have endured careless words or ill-disguised hate from church-going folk for much of our lives have become convinced that process is important. The way something is said and the context in which it is spoken is often just as important as what is said.

    As someone of color who identifies as queer, I’d be happy to have a conversation about racial diversity in the church and Pink Menno (not sure the public arena is the best place for that, though; shoot me an email).

    Sorry about the length; got carried away a bit. :)

  12. just an apprentice permalink
    August 19, 2011 1:14 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Arthur. I agree that process is as important as what is said. I am open to more conversation via email. Peace.

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