by Henry Paetkau
Published online December 31, 2018, in The Canadian Mennonite (Volume 23, Issue 1).
“Igniting the imagination of the church.” That’s the theme of Mennonite Church Canada’s Gathering 2019, to be held from June 28 to July 1 in Abbotsford, B.C. Powerful words, those! What might they mean for us as congregations comprising five regional churches and the nationwide church?
In the latest edition of Anabaptist Witness, César García, the general secretary of Mennonite World Conference, reminds us that the church is a foretaste of the reign of God. As such, the church does not have a message. It is the message of God’s love and reconciling grace by its very presence in the world. A message proclaimed in word and deed.
The mission of God, García continues, requires a new community that practises an ethic different from that of the world. That community is the church, a community of faith that practises what it preaches and embodies a new way of relating to each other and the world. This is a relationship of sacrificial and unconditional love as lived and taught by Jesus, whose birth we remembered and celebrated with such joy and fervour just a few weeks ago.
Do we still have a sense of that excitement and energy as the new year unfolds and we gather for the annual church meeting? Will that ethic, that joy and love, hope and peace, be reflected in our meetings? That’s God purpose and promise for the church—each community of faith that gathers in the name of Christ. Despite its flaws and failings, the church as a faithful community remains the best embodiment of God’s love for the world. And that presence has power to change the world.
That’s also the message of Pentecost, when the church was birthed. According to Acts 2, the Holy Spirit hovered as flames of fire over the apostles. And what a fire was lit! There was an ignition, we might say. The original ignition of the church. The movement this outpouring of the Spirit ignited, and the community formed by its powerful presence, embodied and proclaimed the promised reign of God. As the Book of Acts describes it, and those filled with the Spirit experienced it, this community was international, intercultural, intergenerational, invitational and inclusive. Now there’s a promise and a hope to ignite the imagination of the church!
So where does your imagination of the church take you? How do you imagine the church being a foretaste of the reign of God more faithfully in our time? How have you experienced the reign of God being present in and through the church in new and life-giving ways? Where is the Spirit moving in your congregation and community? Where are the flames of faith and faithfulness being ignited?
“Igniting the imagination of the church.” At Gathering 2019 we will share and hear fire-starter stories from across the nationwide church, stories that demonstrate how the Spirit is at work in and through the diverse faith communities in our regional churches. Come and let your imagination be ignited!
Henry Paetkau is the interim executive minister of MC Canada.