Listening for Wisdom

Last Saturday I gathered on Zoom with Mennonites from across our conference for our annual mid-year gathering. These gatherings used to happen in person across a few different weekends to accommodate the wide geography of the Central District Conference, but have moved solely online the last few years. This means these gatherings bring people together from Madison, Wisconsin to Raleigh, North Carolina, from Ann Arbor, Michigan down to Sarasota, Florida (and lots of congregations in between).

This gathering introduced the conference’s new theme that we will be exploring together for the next while: Listen! Wisdom is Calling.

During the meeting a few congregations shared stories of times in their history when they experienced the wisdom of God leading them in discernment. Many of these stories involved their discernment processes about welcoming LGBTQ+ people into their congregations, and what exactly that welcome entailed. Later in the meeting, we broke into smaller discussion groups to discuss similar topics, and again the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people rose to the top as a common thread of deep discernment that congregations have faced in recent years. 

For some, this process of discernment lasted years. For others it was intentionally kept to a short-as-possible process so as to minimize the painful effects on those within the congregation who identified as LGBTQ+. 

I think the language we use can be important, and so I was struck by how often people used the phrase “pushed out” to describe those who left their congregations after those congregations moved toward greater justice for LGBTQ+ folks. It is similar to when I noticed how often people would describe MCUSA as being “ripped apart” when the denominational body voted a few years ago to get rid of policies that kept LGBTQ+ folks on the margins.

I don’t mean to minimize the reality that conflict causes pain. People leaving a congregation or congregations leaving a denomination will certainly create feelings of loss. But what doors have been opened in these processes? Does someone being “brought in” and restored to a place of honor necessarily mean someone else was being “pushed out”?

In every loss, can we perceive new potential? Can we grieve and celebrate at the same time? Can we hold the paradoxes of life and death, light and dark, mourning and dancing together? Can we listen for the call of Wisdom when it speaks without easy answers?

The time of Lent is nearly upon us, and our theme this year at CMC will be Encounters On the Way. Who will we meet on this journey? What wisdom will they speak to us, and are we willing to listen? What must we be ready to lose in order to gain something new? 

Let us continue to listen together for Wisdom’s call, trusting that we will meet her wherever our journey takes us.