Category: The Church

It’s All About the Relationships: On Mutuality and Accompaniment #AllPeoplePractices

Image result for fix itMany of us just want to fix it. We see brokenness, pain, and injustice in the world around us, and we want to solve it. But it doesn't take long to realize that most of the time, we can't. At UM Church for All People (C4AP), our relationships with one another is our greatest asset. It's what grows the church. It's what build trust as we provide services. It's what we're able to offer forward to our partners as they disseminate their own resources into our community. If we were just about "fixing" people, we'd never move past a transaction of assistance into deeper relationship. And it's the deeper relationship that God would have for each of us. Authentic relationships are based on mutuality and accompaniment. They're not based on one person's ability to "fix" the other. There is a certain hubris to thinking we can fix anything anyway. It is easy for those with power and privileged to think that they are in control. It can feel like we have the resources and influence to save the day. But its ultimately all in God's hands, not ours.
Image result for wonder bread
Those on the marginalize know they can't fix it. They are often confronted with stark realities of structures and systems that stack the odds against them. They know that the outcome of their hard work is not in their control. And they know how to rely on God. They also know how to accompany. They know they can't throw money at their friends' problems, so they offer what they can: accompaniment. Not a false promise of a solution, but the abiding relationship that walks through the situation together. How many times have I prayed the Lord's Prayer? "Give us this day our daily bread." But I don't believe that prayer. I think I do. But I don't. I know I work hard. I earn a paycheck. I pay for my groceries. I give me my daily bread. But on some level, we know that's foolish. It's in sitting next to siblings in Christ that pray that prayer each day without knowing where they will get their next meal that has taught me how to trust God. Which brings us to the second aspect of authentic relationship: mutuality. Mutuality is when both parties are enriched by the relationship. It's notion that everyone has something valuable to offer to others. That the Body of Christ doesn't function simply as a one way flow of service. You may have served at a soup kitchen, but have you sat at table there as well? You may pray for the poor, but have asked them to pray for you? It is good to want to help others. Our instincts of compassion and service are at the root of so much of what is good in Christianity. But without mutuality of relationship, it can be draining and people will burn out. Image result for burnoutWe often get well meaning volunteers that want to serve the community. They will do good work, dedicating their time, money, and energy to the various ministries. But after a while, some lose their fever a drift away. This is not to devalue their contribution; everything has a season. But we've found that the volunteers that come and stay, do so because they realize that they get as much out of it as they put in, if not more. They realize are being fed, even as they feed others. They learn the beauty and richness of mutuality. During worship services at C4AP, there is a time for sharing of joys and concerns. On any given morning, someone may stand up and say "My gas got cut off, and winter's coming, and I'm scared. I know you can't fix it, but will you pray with me about it?" And the very next person might get up and say "Our last kid just went off to college. We're excited for her, but now we're empty nesters and we're sad she's gone. We know you can't fix it, but will you pray with us about it?" Image result for empty nesterIt matter that these prayer get lifted up equally before God. If we aren't vulnerable with one another, we maintain the charade that we have it all together. We deny ourselves the opportunity to trust in God and to trust in one another. Indeed, if we don't solicit the mutuality of prayers from those we think we are serving, then we reveal our own bias of believing God hears our own prayers better. Is not each person a child of God? If anything, the persecuted and downtrodden may be more in tune to God's voice. We worship a God of the Oppressed, and scripture is often written from and to those on the margins. Ultimately, we will have a better understanding of who God is when we are in relationship with the folks that Jesus hung out with while he was on earth. When we read the Sermon on the Mount with those that do indeed hunger and thirst. When we celebrate Christmas with those who have wrestled unexpected teen pregnancy. When we learn about the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well with those who have been shamed and ostracized from society. When we experience Holy Week with with those that have felt what it's like to be imprisoned and to stare death in the face. And when we experience resurrection with those that have a deep understanding of what it means to have victory over death. These relationships mutuality and accompaniment are at the heart of everything we do at C4AP. Through the Free Store, we open our doors to the community and invite the sort of daily interactions necessary to build commonality. By listening to our neighbors in this setting, we launched our community development work, like our affordable housing initiative and the Healthy Eating and Living program. Indeed, every step we have taken toward an opportunity rich community has had its roots in the relationships we build with the many that enter our doors each day. Image result for mutuality mlk We live into the duality of respecting each individual’s autonomy, while offering opportunity to those that want to grow. We understand that not everyone wants to climb the economic ladders of a broken system, and also recognize that life can be better for those who are interested in creating change in their own lives. We hold in tension the idea that “God loves us just the way we are, and God is not finished with us yet.” It might sound like a contradiction, but it reflects the notion that God accompanies each one of us, offering us all the opportunity of mutuality to live into everything that we can be.

Passion Week 1535

This is Passion Week: from the volatility of Palm Sunday to the violence of Good Friday. I call Good Friday Armistice Day—the day that Jesus put an end to the need for animal sacrifice in worship and also the need for human sacrifice in war. The Reformation was an important time of church reform but […]

The Jerusalem Project: Starting a Christian Community from Scratch

Originally published at PCPJ. The Jerusalem Project is based on the radical idea that biblical followers of Jesus should live like the followers of Jesus in the Bible. Specifically, we don’t think that the community of goods that Jesus practiced with his disciples (John 13:29) and that they then continued to practice in the apostolic church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:44-45), was a mistake or has gone obsolete. On the contrary, since Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and the apostles are the foundation of the church (Eph 2:19), we believe we should live like them. […] Continue reading →

The Pitfalls of Church-Speak and What to Say Instead: How to Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

In this YouTube video, musician Micah Tyler offers a light-hearted take on church-speak, or what some call Christianese: Every field has its own jargon that may not be easily understood by others. Some may appear as abbreviations like http (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) or as specialized language like plug-in (a kind of computer sub-program) or every time, and–to use an example from Micah Tyler’s video–to “fellowship” instead of hanging out together.  […]

Anabaptists and Reformed Siblings of Reformation in Zürich

“Zürich has always been known as the seat of the (Zwingli) Reformation in Switzerland,” stated Peter Dettwiler, retired pastor of the Grössmünster Reformed Church in Zürich. “But Zürich was also the seat of the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement.”
“Anabaptists are siblings of the Reformation in Zürich,” declared Nina Sonderegger, pastor of the Reformed Church in Heimisbach, near Trachselwald.  “Unfortunately, this has been ignored for nearly 500 years.” 
“Reading the Bible in small groups in their homes does not make (Anabaptists) a sect,” affirmed Catherine McMillan, in her “Das Wort zum Sonntag“ (The Word for Sunday) broadcast to the Swiss people on November 5, 2016. She is a Reformed pastor from Dübendorf and a Reformed Church Ambassador for Ecumenical relationships. “Their Jesus is the same as ours; they read his words in their Bible study groups from the Sermon on the Mount with different eyes.” 
“Many Mennonites and Amish, descendants of the Anabaptists, came to visit Switzerland from the United States and Canada,” said Don Siegrist, visitor from Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. “We visited sites related to Anabaptist history, but we had little contact with the Zwingli Reformed people themselves. We had been erased from their history.” 
Peter Dettwiler shows slides of his visit Amish country in Pennsylvania.
These statements came from two recent meetings in Switzerland which I attended. The meetings were reunions of Swiss Reformed delegations who visited Anabaptist peoples in the United States, many of whom trace their roots to Switzerland. These efforts for more contact between Swiss Reformed and Anabaptist groups began after “A Day of Reconciliation” held on June 26, 2004, in which ambassadors from the Zwingli Reformed Church of Switzerland, asked representatives from various Anabaptist groups for forgiveness for the years of ostracizing and persecution. As a result of these efforts, a plaque in honor of the first Anabaptist Martyr in Zürich, Feliz Manz, and the last, Hans Landis, was placed along the Limmat River in Zürich, near where they were drowned. 
The plaque honoring Felix Manz and Hans Landis, Anabaptist martyrs.
Throughout Switzerland in 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated. As part of these celebrations, there has been increased interest in the forgotten part of the Reformation for most Swiss; the Anabaptist story that arose at the same time as a sibling of the Zürich Reformation. For example, at the St. Matthäuskirche in Basel, Switzerland, I will join with Swiss Mennonite historian, Hanspeter Jecker, in sharing the history of Anabaptists/Mennonites; he about those who stayed, and I about those who emigrated. 
Another example of these celebrations were the two recent meetings that I attended, both with the title, “The Reformed and the Anabaptists.” The first meeting was held in Heimisbach, a village nestled in the Emmental Valley, near Trachselwald. There is still a strong Anabaptist presence in this area, even though they were pushed to farm on impossibly steep mountainsides (see photographs from blog post Whither the Wengers). Trachselwaldis also the site of the castle where many Anabaptists were imprisoned and tortured. 
An unexpectedly large crowd of over 60 people showed up to hear the story of the Anabaptists, see a slide show of visits to Anabaptist-related groups in the USA, and to hear words from tour hosts Don and Joanne Siegrist. The presenters were peppered with questions related particularly to the Amish. 
Grössmünster in Zürich, Switzerland, where meeting took place.
The meeting in Zürich took place in the facilities of the Grössmünster, perhaps even where Zwingli debated with early Anabaptist leaders Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz. Even though it was mostly a reunion of people who participated in the Reformed-Anabaptist exchanges, it was clear that there was great interest and respect for Anabaptist groups among the Reformed who were present. 
“Tell an Amish person that you are from Switzerland,” stated Don Siegrist in his remarks at both meetings. “And you will see their eyes light up. They still consider Switzerland to be their homeland.” In fact, the Siegrists have compiled a list of cultural characteristics that the Amish and the Swiss have in common. The respect went both ways. 
Joanne Siegrist (second left) speaks with representatives of the Reformed Church in Zürich, including Pfarrerin Christine McMillan (right).
It was refreshing for me to hear directly from people of the Zwingli Reformed Church, especially the words in the video by Reformed Pastor Catherine McMillan. My visits to Switzerland stretch over 36 years, and Mennonites (Anabaptists) have mostly been considered by the general populace a sect to be scorned and shunned. Even though this is still the case, the fact that church leaders are providing an alternate view on the national media, is a change in the right direction. Also, the fact that these two meetings generated such interest in Reformed-Anabaptist relationships is an encouraging sign. 
Siblings of the Reformation. In Switzerland, through actions taken and show by leaders in the Zwingli Reformed Church, Anabaptists have been elevated to a position alongside the Zwingli Reformation. This not only gives credibility to the long-ignored Anabaptist movement, but also helps to forge new relationships with fellow Christians. 
Retired Pfarrer Peter Dettwiler, right, was one of the original promoters of "A Day of Reconciliation" from the Zwingli Reformed movement. He has led Swiss on numerous tours of Anabaptist areas of the USA. I met him originally when he spoke at an EMU chapel on the reconciliation between Anabaptist groups and the Zwingli Reformed Church.

How to Start a Small Group

Get motivated and get the word out. Instead of giving up something for Lent this year, I decided to start a small group that would use Christ Is for Us. After working on the book last year, I was eager to share the published version, so I committed to prayer, put out the word, invited anyone interested to join me, and together we decided on a mutually agreeable time. We are women and men; single and married; with young children, school-aged children or no children; taking part with our spouse or on our own. We’ve rescheduled the laundry, arranged for child care, gotten out of the house and over to the church earlier than usual–all in the interest of getting together to deepen our faith and strengthen community together. [...] Read More ›

Does archaeology show the Bible is true? Seven facts

I’m sure you will have read, and heard it said, that archaeology confirms the accuracy of the Bible. But you may also have heard from sceptics that the Bible isn’t historically accurate. So which is true? This is a complex matter with a wide variety of conclusions among the experts. I have tried to investigate … Continue reading Does archaeology show the Bible is true? Seven facts

Multiplicity and Healthy Ministry

Before I entered pastoral ministry, I was a political science major, an office worker, a grad student in theology, a lay church leader and worship committee member, a published writer, a journal keeper, a poet, a proof reader for an engineering firm, a college instructor, the wife of a law student turned professor, a daughter,…

Women in the Reformation

One of Martin Luther’s contributions to how we view church today was his rediscovery of the concept of the “priesthood of all believers”. International Women’s Day [March 8] is a good time to reflect on the application of this doctrine. How many female leaders of the Reformation do you know? Probably none. Of the Reformation […]
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