ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



A follow-up to yesterday’s letter

I’d like to share a few additional items related to yesterday’s letter:

I emailed my letter to Terry Shue and Ervin Stutzman before I posted it on my blog. Almost immediately, I received a response from Terry, which I deeply appreciate. It was clear that he “heard” my letter. It was also clear that this is not an easy time for him or others in MCUSA leadership (and if I had to guess, I would say that it will get harder before it gets easier). These people are my sisters and brothers. Occasionally I even know them personally. They love the Mennonite Church, just as I do. They are in my prayers. I hope that any MCUSA leader who reads my blog will understand this.

Nevertheless, I think that they have acted inappropriately, so I will try to disagree in love.

A friend reminded me today of another unfortunate statement in the Mennonite recently. In an editorial, Everett Thomas quotes Ervin Stutzman’s report to the MCUSA Executive Board:

The experience of Pink Mennos at Columbus in 2009, introduced a new level of engagement in controversial matters. … The techniques of social advocacy and confrontation that we have taught young adults in our schools has come to haunt our church’s most visible gathering, to the end that convention-goers feel immense pressure to take up sides against one another on [homosexuality].

[For more information about what happened in Columbus, see the July 7, 2009, issue of The Mennonite.]

I sincerely hope that this choice of words was an unfortunate oversight. But it is hurtful. “Haunt” sounds like a word that was intended to bring shame. I tend to think that “beautiful” would be a better description of the glimpses of pink all around Columbus.

I’d like to suggest some additional resources. If you either…

1) Would like to know more about how to make MCUSA a welcoming place for all, or…

2) Disagree with my beliefs, but think that dialogue is important (and believe that authentic dialogue only occurs when you understand the other person)…

… then I would suggest that you visit some of these websites:


A letter to Terry Shue and Ervin Stutzman

May 5, 20011

Terry Shue, Director of Leadership Development, Denominational Minister, Mennonite Church USA

Ervin Stutzman, Executive Director, Mennonite Church USA

Dear Terry and Ervin,

Peace to you. Thank you for your love for Mennonite Church USA and your willingness to serve our denomination.

I imagine that your job is often quite difficult. You probably don’t hear much from random people within MCUSA unless there is some problem to address or fire to put out.

And so, it is with some degree of “sheepishness” that I’m writing to you now.

Recently, The Mennonite reported that you dismissed Randy Spaulding from his position on the binational worship council because of “his desire to pursue a covenanted same-sex relationship”. According to The Mennonite, he was asked to step down from the council on March 7th. He declined and then was dismissed the next day.

I am saddened for MCUSA because of this report. I do not see any acknowledgement of the resolution passed by MCUSA delegates at Columbus. Instead, I see a step backward:

  • There is no room for “dissenting voices”.
  • There is no “commitment to ongoing dialogue and discernment”.
  • There is no “healthy and safe environment” created by this action. Instead, it sends the opposite message to our LGBT brothers and sisters: that MCUSA is not a safe place.
  • It does not allow “God’s healing and hope to flow” to our LGBT brothers and sisters.

I do not personally know Randy, but I have greatly benefitted from the gifts that he has given to our denomination. Furthermore, I have been astounded at the gentleness with which he has addressed his detractors. I do not know if he would want to continue working on the worship council. However, I encourage you to re-think your decision to dismiss him and to offer to restore him to the position on the council, if he so desired.

I do not expect or desire a personal response to my letter. I would only request that you consider carefully how this action is perceived by the denomination and how it fits with the resolution passed in Columbus. If you think that the various news reports are inaccurate or misleading, you may wish to clarify them.

It is my hope and expectation that God is moving in MCUSA to bring about a day when all members of God’s family are welcomed.

I pray that you may experience the peace of Christ as you help MCUSA face these challenges.

Derek W. Yoder

Disjointed thoughts on community and resurrection

Today, my congregation welcomed four new people into membership. Rather than a traditional sermon, each of the four shared testimonies. This was a very rich time, and story telling is such an integral part of passing on faith.

At the same time, I realized that these times of sharing have the potential to be quite awkward. What if the story-teller is nervous? What if someone’s theology doesn’t quite match what the congregation generally believes?

And then I thought…

God forbid that we become a community where stories can’t be shared; or where we insist on homogeneity of belief; or where we can’t offer a safe place to be vulnerable and to grow as Jesus’ disciples.

A safe place, a shelter, a haven…

We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven.

There are times when I’m very saddened by my congregation. Of course, there are the current challenges of discerning what we want to do about LGBTQ membership. In the back corner of my brain, I always have this lurking fear that there will always be someone in my community (as I broadly define it) that won’t feel welcome in my congregation.

And then today, I was talking with someone who was feeling criticized (rather than supported) because of a particularly hard parenting challenge.

Oh, God – why can’t we offer a haven to each other?

Frankly, there are times when I feel something a bit like despair. How do I maintain hope when I can’t see any possible way to get from where I am to where I want to be? Recently, I began reminding myself, “I believe in the resurrection.”

And here’s where things get disjointed. This video is cheesy and highly produced, and yet I appreciate it. I first saw it last year, and remembered it again yesterday.

“He isn’t here!” Well, you didn’t see that coming, did you?

Congregational update – more work toward reconciliation

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve talked about how things are going at my congregation.  Given some stuff happening this weekend, I thought that this might be a good time for another update.  As always, this is very much an update from my perspective.  Probably much of what I interpret as the congregation’s experience is really just me projecting my own reactions.

(For anyone who doesn’t know the story that I’m telling here, I invite you to read the blog posts filed under ‘Kipcor‘.  You’ll get the idea.)

So – the facilitators from Kipcor (Robert and Kirsten) visited with us twice last year.  The first time, they gave us some guidance and encouragement about storytelling: how to tell stories, how to listen, how to be sensitive to the multitude of perspectives.  After that, they spent a significant portion of time gathering the congregation’s stories, trying to establish a coherent picture of what conspired to result in such a disastrous meeting on Pentecost Sunday.  Finally, they visited with us again to try to give us some idea of the big picture.  I think that many people really appreciated that second meeting, either because they began to see the big picture for the first time, or because they felt like their story was finally being heard.

Since then, the congregation decided to continue working with Robert and Kirsten during the next phase of this reconciliation work.  Beginning with their visit this weekend, we will be telling our stories to each other, naming the places where we need healing, and (hopefully) doing the real hard work of forgiving and reconciling.

As part of this story telling, I will be part of a story circle tomorrow (Saturday).  This is a small group of people who will gather to share and listen in a very intense way.  We have been asked to consider two questions:

Describe from your perspective the central behaviors or events in the recent difficulties which caused hurt, frustration, or conflict for you.

What do you need to help you begin to heal, let go of negative feelings, and move forward?

For the longest time, I’ve had trouble articulating the hurt and frustration that I’ve felt.  My emotions often caught me off guard and were most raw during worship and during meetings with Robert and Kirsten.  I have expressed this in my blog once before: how, in theory, I really wanted to be a part of these meetings and to work at reconciliation.  I think this is vitally important.  Yet, when the meetings occurred, I just couldn’t bring myself to be a part of them.  Emotionally, I was sick.

Recently, I think I was able to pull my story together in a way that I could begin to understand it and share it in a way that is clear to others (or at least to Ordinary Spouse, who is the only person to hear my story so far, and who had trouble understanding before).  It goes like this…

On one hand, my very close friends were no longer in my congregation.  When they finalized their decision to go to a new church, they sent a letter explaining  their decision.  In it, they thanked four friends for walking with them.  Of those four, I was the only one present on the Sunday that Robert and Kirsten shared “the big picture”.  Another one of the four was out of town, but two others had chosen to leave permanently.  In any case, the result for me was a feeling of great loss mixed with loneliness and isolation.

On the other hand, I’ve been very committed to my congregation.  Ordinary Spouse and I discussed this commitment long before the trouble began.  We view our membership like a covenant, and in that way it is much like a marriage bond.  Because we value it so highly, we also want to encourage the whole group in working toward healing, and to help with that whenever possible.

On top of these two competing influences, there was “the big picture”.  I haven’t tried to describe it before, and I’m not going to try now, either.  Suffice to say, we had a perfect storm of sorts, with many different stories converging at once.  Most of the congregation was unaware of all of the stories, but when Kirsten and Robert shared them during their second visit, I didn’t learn anything new.

So – these three things (the loss and loneliness, the longing for healing for the congregation as a whole, and the weight of holding all of the stories) combined to cause the cauldron of emotions that I couldn’t articulate.  When I finally put all of this together the other night with Ordinary Spouse, I described feeling as if I were being torn in many directions at once.  Just getting to that description was in some ways very healing.

From there, I can consider the second question.  What do I need in order to move forward?

Two things have come to mind.  First, I just want the moving-forward process to begin.  I spent last summer and fall taking care of the personal processing that needed to happen and mending a strained relationship.  And when I look forward, I see a long climb ahead.  I’m anxious to get started.

The second thing is that I need to be respected.  I don’t need people to agree with me – just  understand that I’m trying to act with integrity.

So often, when this conflict comes up in the broader Church, I hear one group of people claim to be Bible-believing.  If we could just study the Bible (they say), we’d come to a sound decision.  The implication is that some other group (the group that I’m now a part of) isn’t Bible-believing.  I have never been addressed personally, but I’ve been guilty by association.  And it’s incredibly hurtful.  If I can’t be respected, then we can no longer be a community – not because I’m leaving, but because I’ve already been pushed out.

Anyway – that’s what I hope to be able to share tomorrow.  I hope that I’m heard, and I hope that I am able to hear the others in the circle, as well.  It will be a tough few hours, but by God’s grace they’ll also be a healing time.

Congregational update

I’ve been meaning to give an update on the state of things in my congregation for a while now.  I know that some of my earlier posts may have been confusing to those looking in from the outside, so I’ll try start with a very brief summary of things.

Those who have read my blog before know that the congregation was going through a process to discern whether to extend membership to same-gender couples in committed relationships.  We had a very painful meeting on Pentecost Sunday of this year (May 31st) that ended badly.  However, despite what might have been assumed from reading my reactions to that meeting, our process did not conclude with that meeting.  Rather, the process continues, although it has been put on hold for a time.

(On the other hand, some people have left our congregation.  My friends, who were most directly impacted by our congregational process, needed to leave for their own health.  Others left based on conviction one way or another.  Some people decided to take a vacation from the congregation, but returned later.  And so on.)

Since our congregation is pretty mobile, especially in the summer, we put off further action until the fall.  In the interim, we decided that in order to move forward we needed some new tools – new ways of communicating, of telling our stories and listening to others tell theirs.  We have brought in two mediators from KIPCOR to work with us. 

Their first visit was earlier this month on Sunday, October 4th.  I had a somewhat unsettling experience that day.  Our meetings were during the Sunday school hour and then again after potluck.  As I came to our meeting space, I struggled to join the group that had already started meeting.   Mentally, I just had a very hard time.  Finally, I found a chair in the corner and listened from there.  The meeting after the potluck was even harder – I never did join that one, although I was able to listen because the sound system was on.

I’m not exactly sure why I reacted the way I did, and I wasn’t pleased with myself.  In theory, I was glad that the mediators were there, but I felt tired – like I had dealt with things all summer, even though the congregation as a whole was waiting for fall – and didn’t want to go through things again.  It is also possible (though I discounted it then) that returning from Australia only twelve hours earlier had something to do with my emotional state.

The folks from KIPCOR will be back in the middle of November, and they’ve asked us to consider this question:

What is the one story you would like to share with others that will help them be able to understand your experience related to the events of the past 12 months?

Again, I don’t particularly look forward to this time, and I’m not at all happy with that feeling.  Partly, I don’t know where to begin with my story.  Partly, I don’t want to tell it again.  And I’m still tired.  So I’ve got some preparation to do.  Here are the other questions that I (we) have been asked to consider between now and then:

  • What is God saying to me in the midst of struggle?
  • What is the one thing I am doing to help the congregation resilient?
  • Am I cultivating a sense of respect and humility?
  • Can I maintain a sense of wonder?
  • Where am I seeing God at work?
  • Am I taking care of myself?
  • Did I laugh with others today?
  • Am I spending time in prayer with the freedom to be honest with God?

One more bit of reporting from Columbus…

There was a concerted effort at convention to encourage the Mennonite Church to become more welcoming to LGBT brothers and sisters.  The effort began with the “Open Letter” earlier this year and was followed closely by some great organizing by the PinkMenno group.  Other long time advocates (MennoNeighbors and BMC) also played a part.  One of the powerful and very encouraging results was that you couldn’t turn around without seeing someone wearing pink, an indication of solidarity and support for changing the way the church has traditionally related to the LGBT community and its allies.  There was also some great teaching and instruction at seminars organized by the various groups.

One of the primary complaints from the community against the Mennonite Church is that, although it has promised dialogue, it hasn’t followed through on that promise.  Specifically, true dialogue cannot happen in an environment that threatens one side with discipline.  Therefore, a resolution was brought to the Resoultions Committee* which would have ended the disciplining process.

* I won’t attempt to describe the finer points of how business gets done in the Mennonite Church.

Predictably, there were some who were troubled by that resolution and by the pink presence, and they brought an opposing resolution which would have re-affirmed the church’s teachings on sexuality.  In the end, the Resolutions Committee brought a new (compromise?) proposal to the convention delegates.  It passed with some modification:

Resolution on Following Christ and Growing Together as Communities Even in Conflict

Adopted by Mennonite Church USA Delegate Assembly, Columbus, Ohio

July 4, 2009

Through the journey of the Christian church, we are aware of historical divisions that have marked the communities of faith. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the church was guided and transformed in the Book of Acts. Many issues have led to vigorous debate and we acknowledge our current discussions regarding issues of human sexuality.

As delegates at Columbus, we are aware of current and ongoing debate over the issue of human sexuality and conference response to congregations in variance. We acknowledge the pain and frustration of this issue for a number of conferences, congregations, families and individuals. We acknowledge the statements by Mennonite Church USA on Human Sexuality, which have been previously passed and are currently in place, while we also acknowledge the presence of dissenting voices within our denomination.

We affirm the church’s commitment to ongoing dialogue and discernment and “agreeing and disagreeing in love.” We confess that we as a church (congregations, conferences, denomination) have rarely found a way to create a healthy, safe environment in which to have this dialogue, one that builds up the Body of Christ, and is respectful and honest about our differences.

We affirm Mennonite Church USA’s Vision Statement of God’s healing and hope flowing through us to the world.

And so we call upon the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA to work with conferences to provide and encourage the use of resources which assist conferences and congregations to engage in this discernment. Our hope is for a broad range of resources that help us live faithfully, extending hospitality to all of God’s people. May the Holy Spirit guide and direct us through this time.

The primary change that the delegates made to the resolution that was presented by the Resolutions Committee was to change the word “affirm” to “acknowledge” in the second paragraph.  Happily, the delegates thought that the goal of dialogue wouldn’t be served by deciding the outcome even before beginning the dialogue.

I have heard a number of reactions to all of these things from Columbus:

  • The pink presence was widely perceived to have been a great success.  Its integrity was praised.
  • The response to the resolution was mixed.  Some see the change of a single word as a cause for hope.  Some see the result as a continuation of the status quo.
  • Some people wonder what kind of response/pushback will come from those with opposing views.

In any case, there is optimism that things are changing and that momentum exists.  Personally, I don’t have scars from fighting these battles in the past, and as an ally, I don’t have as much at stake.  Still, I’m excited to be involved and to see where things are going.

For others who are interested, here are some relevant Menno-related links:

Columbus news on the resolution:

Columbus news on the pink presence:

(National news organizations also picked up these stories.  Try a google search.)

Past and present resolutions:

Mennonite (and Brethren!) groups working for change:

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