A big tent needs stakes
Array of distinctives keeps MWC grounded
At an event honoring Mennonite World Conference general secretary emeritus Larry Miller on May 23 in Switzerland, attendees presented gifts both musical and material, from colorful African clothing to Latin American flags and scarves.
Europeans — recognizing that Miller’s Strasbourg office straddled not just France and Germany, but French, German and Swiss Mennonite vintners — presented him with four Mennonite wines.
From Molotschna Colony breweries in Ukraine 200 years ago to Mennonites along Germany’s Weinstrasse today, the Lord provides by way of labor in the fields and fermentation in the bottle. Like wheat and bread for Midwestern Mennonites, grapes and wine are the economic engines of families and a key element of congregational communion.
However, some Mennonite groups around the world — especially those seeking converts in Muslim-dominated settings — forbid alcohol.
The gift held potential for strife that never came. Instead, it reflected the scope of the tent we share when we enter into global fellowship.
Unlike a circus tent reserved for those with tickets, the MWC tent is open-sided, a welcome shelter from a harsh sun or chilling downpour.
It’s also susceptible to wind — a refreshing breeze or gusts capable of carrying the whole thing away like a kite.
A tent is only as strong as its ropes and stakes. While keeping it grounded, stakes and ropes can also trip those wishing to enter or even leave.
In three “Revisiting Our Vision” documents presented to the MWC General Council, historians and theologians identified several Anabaptist stakes and ropes: A peace stance from Christ’s call to love enemies. Worship expressed in word and deed. Service to others. A community (from the Greek koinonia) built upon the reconciliation Christ achieved on the cross.
Tom Yoder Neufeld of Canada asked if MWC can think of koinonia as granting the space to be distinctly as faithful as possible. He likes to think of this space as having thin walls. Conversations can be overheard or even interrupted; respect and debate mingle.
“Paul understood koinonia as a vision of being chained together in chains of peace,” he said. “When Christ takes us and chains us to each other, we are tall and short, we are fast and slow, we are impatient and meek, and together we have to learn to walk together. The koinonia of Christ never walks in a nice way; it stumbles and trips together.”
The global Anabaptist family is diverse, and that’s a good thing. There is also an abundance of universal truths we can all agree upon, as long as we trip along together.
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