a letter to my church

To my beloved church,

Who has been with me from the very beginning. Who knotted a comforter with words of love and scripture written on the patches and wrapped it around me after my first few very scary days on earth. Who laid hands on me when I felt the Spirit lead me to the accept Jesus Christ into my heart during campfire time at Highland Retreat in Bergton, Va. Who gave me the opportunity as a seventh grader to preach on Youth Sunday. Who surrounded my family when dad announced his resignation and cried with us as we left Virginia. Who welcomed us with loving arms into our new home in Ohio. Who asked me to be on the Worship Planning Committee, help plan an Advent series, lead worship and read scripture on a Sunday morning. Who have supported me so much so that I will graduate with a Bachelor’s degree from Goshen College next spring debt free. Who gave me the opportunity to interact with communities in Harrisburg, Pa., Indianapolis, Ind., Hindman, Ky., Canton, Ohio, Chicago, Ill., Phoenix, Ariz. and Pittsburgh, Pa. Who wrote note after note after note to me expressing words of affirmation of the gifts you’ve see in me. 

You are a part of my story. You have shaped me in numerous ways, whether I like it or not. You have cried with me, laughed with me, sang with me, ate with me, and traveled with me. You walked alongside of me both when I needed you and when I didn’t want you. When your worship felt fake and disjointed. When small talk felt like the only way I could survive being a part of you. When my questions and uncertainties didn’t feel welcome. When I felt like I had to choose between loving my LGBTQ friends and loving you. When I was getting to be too comfortable.

As I have thought about what it is I want to tell you, I have been at a loss for words. But this morning, as I was reading the words of Richard Rohr in his daily meditation, I heard the Spirit’s voice. I heard her breathing life into the questions and confusion that I have been wrestling with in the days following our gathering in Orlando.

Rohr writes,

“I see transformation and change occurring in three stages: order > disorder > reorder.

A sense of order is the easiest and most natural way to begin; it is a needed first ‘container.’ But this structure is dangerous if we stay in its safe confines too long. It is small and self-serving. It doesn’t know the full picture, but it thinks it does. ‘Order’ must be deconstructed by the trials and vagaries of life. We must go through a period of ‘disorder’ to grow up.

Only in the final ‘reorder’ stage can darkness and light coexist, can paradox be okay. We are finally at home in the only world that ever existed. This is true and contemplative knowing. Here death is a part of life, failure is a part of victory, and imperfection is included in perfection. Opposites collide and unite; everything belongs.

We dare not get rid of our pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. Most of religion gives answers too quickly, dismisses pain too easily, and seeks to be distracted—to maintain some ideal order. So we must resist the instant fix and acknowledge ourselves as beginners to be open to true transformation. In the great spiritual traditions, the wounds to our ego are our teachers and are to be welcomed. They should be paid attention to, not denied or even perfectly resolved. How can a Christian look at the Crucified One and not understand this essential point?

The Resurrected Christ is the icon of reorder. Once we can learn to live in this third spacious place, neither fighting nor fleeing reality but holding the creative tension, we are in the spacious place of grace out of which all newness comes. God is now in charge, not us.

There is no direct flight from order to reorder. You must go through disorder, which is surely why Jesus dramatically and shockingly endured it on the cross. He knew we would all want to deny necessary suffering unless he made it overwhelmingly clear.

We know these words to be true, right? We know exactly what order looks like, and we know exactly what the period of disorder looks like. Kansas 2015?

My church, I believe we have stayed in the safe confines for too long. And because of this, we’ve lost a lot of people. They are not with us anymore. And I’m talking about both sides.

But last week as my head was anointed with glitter at the Inclusive Service of Worship where the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting were remembered and leaders of Pink Menno led us in singing I got a glimpse of the “reorder” that Rohr speaks of.

And in Rachel Held Evans seminar “Keeping the Church Weird” when she said death is something empires worry about, not something resurrection people worry about. And that the folks we are shutting out will be leading the church tomorrow. That’s how the Spirit works. The future’s in the margins.

And in Phoenix attorney Will Gonzalez’s seminar where he spoke to the power of restorative justice in the judicial system. After sharing story after story of the youth he has worked with over the years he left us with these words, “I’m not a Mennonite, but you guys are attractive. You want to find purpose and meaning? Get back to the streets. This is your decade. You have to do something. This is your time. This is your market.”

And in Drew Hart’s seminar “Changing the way the church views racism” where he asked us, a predominantly white audience, to take ownership of the ways that we are all apart of perpetuating a racist system. To take a deep and critical look at our own un-examined “whiteness”, understand the history of our ancestors and our own ideology. To take a posture of learning, and be willing to take a seat and come under the leadership of people of color.

And in the seminar led by Saulo Padilla and Tammy Alexander where we read the migration stories of those leaving their homeland to find another home. True stories of human beings that endured endless hardships to come to the United States where their hardships would not end. 

Each of these seminars spoke of pain and what it has to teach us, instead of dismissing it.

They each spoke of broken systems and how as Rohr writes, “we must resist the instant fix and acknowledge ourselves as beginners to be open to true transformation.”

They were each led by those belonging to a minority group. Those who could have left long ago, but who are still with us, and I thank God they are.

I’m still processing all that I learned and absorbed in the days of convention. There is a lot of work ahead, but I am more ready and open to be apart of it than I was before Orlando 2017.

I am listening.

I am watching.

I am ready to reorder.

Sincerely,

one of your future leaders

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Beverly Short says:

    Very well written, gives me hope for a brighter future for peace, love and unity for all people.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Whitney Janzen-Pankratz says:

    Hello Emily,

    I don’t think we have ever met, but thank you so much for this. Your words echo so much of the feeling I had a decade ago, and still have today. For me and my young family, we couldn’t wait for a new reorder. We have been raising our son in the UCC church because of their inclusive theology that reflects what I view Jesus’s love to be. But we are watching. If the Mennonite church can change in a way that heals relationships with those its ostracized we might come back. I think the leaders of my childhood may have thought that by not making decisions they were preventing fragmentation in our communities, but thier silence on things that mattered caused some pretty deep wounds. Thank you for being present in the tension.

    With love,

    Whitney

    Liked by 1 person

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