A Personal Best!

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Steve Carpenter

How many church services have you gone to in one day?

I wasn’t trying for a record, but recently I spent a week in Minnesota for my work as MennoMedia’s director of development. It was my first time visiting that state, apart from a brief stop at the Twin Cities airport many years earlier.

I was particularly interested in visiting the Mennonite community of Mountain Lake, about two and an half hours southwest of the Twin Cities, to see a donor who has given two generous gifts to MennoMedia in the last year. When I discussed these plans with my supervisor, executive director Russ Eanes, he suggested I arrive on Saturday and visit Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul where Greg Boyd is the lead pastor. You may know Greg as the author of The Myth of a Christian Nation. He and his congregation are in discussions with Central Plains Mennonite Conference about the possibility of becoming affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Woodland Hills is a megachurch with two Sunday morning services. I made a 9 a.m. appointment with Patrick Showers, associate children’s pastor (elementary). He agreed to show me around and tell me more about their ministries.

When I arrived people were already streaming into the renovated shopping center space which Woodland Hills now occupies. I spent some time with Patrick, then went to the lobby and watched the service on the large-screen TV mounted on the wall. Patrick told me their attendance is about 2,500 people on a Sunday morning. Between the services I was able to touch base with Greg and give him two of MennoMedia’s new books: For God and Country and Radical Jesus. He graciously accepted them and promised to pass the graphic novel on to the youth pastor. I stayed for the second service as well, and enjoyed the 14-person praise band and the mix of English and Spanish songs they led.

ForGodAndCountryRadicalJesus_Cover

Upon leaving Woodland Hills I decided to go see the Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul, for which the capitol city is named. This majestic structure, the third largest church in the U.S., towers over the city not far from the equally impressive gold domed state capitol. I thought, “Surely the Cathedral will be open on a Sunday morning and I’ll be able to get in and see it.” When I arrived, a few minutes before noon, I found their third morning mass was about to begin. So I decided to stay, making it my third worship service that day. The massive structure was less than half full but there were still at least 1,000 people there, about as many as attended each service at Woodland Hills. During communion I went up with my arms crossed, indicating I was not a Catholic parishioner seeking communion but, rather, a visitor seeking a blessing. The female lay leader made the sign of the cross over my head and pronounced a verbal blessing.

Cathedral of St. Paul, MN

Cathedral of St. Paul, MN

After lingering to admire the architecture, I grabbed some lunch and then headed to my next appointment—a 3 p.m. Bach Cantata being performed at Emmanuel Mennonite Church in honor of departing pastor Mathew Swora. Mathew, who has served the Emmanuel congregation for 15 years, has accepted a position as pastor of Zion Mennonite Church in Oregon. He is a huge Bach fan and even played violin during the performance. Since the cantata was done in a sanctuary, and involved several elements where the congregation sang and prayed, I felt like this was my fourth service of the day.

From there I headed to ThirdWay Church, a Mennonite congregation which is intentional in its discipleship and community life. They meet in an Episcopal church under the leadership of Seth McCoy, who, incidentally, was a youth pastor at Woodland Hills for a number of years. The service was informal. Seth sat on a stool in front of the podium as he expounded on the scriptural text. After the service, I went to dinner with Seth, his wife Jen and their two children Glory and Silas at the Groundwswell Restaurant which Seth owns and operates in the traditional model of a bi-vocational Mennonite pastor.

thirdway

That was my fifth service of the day. Later in the week, after describing these experiences someone asked me “Were you going for the record for the most worship services attended in one day?” I answered, “No, but it was a personal best!”

My home congregation is very small, averaging about 35 people in worship on a Sunday morning. Yet I enjoy the sense of intimacy, the congregation’s creativity, and their sincere desire to follow Christ. Nonetheless, I enjoy the megachurch worship experience, at least occasionally.

How do you experience worship? What are the things you like best about your home congregation? What worship experiences do you long for? What is your personal best, in terms of the number or quality of worship services you have experienced?

SteveC

Steve Carpenter
Director of Development

‘Tis the Season to Pause

Guest blog post by April Yamasaki, author of Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal (Herald Press, 2013).

This year from Advent to Epiphany, my church is following the journey of the magi, with a clue each Sunday for where our three wise men nativity figures will appear next. On the first Sunday of Advent, they were upstairs in a Sunday school classroom. This last Sunday, they were in my office–one on the low book case by the door, and the other two on top of my tall shelving unit by the window. Each Sunday they’ll be in a different place in the church, until they finally arrive at the nativity scene in the sanctuary on Epiphany Sunday.

Photo credit Free Digital Photos at www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo credit Free Digital Photos at www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I was delighted when the chair of our worship committee suggested this idea. What a fun and creative way to celebrate the Advent-Epiphany season! It’s great for the children and for all ages in our congregation, as we look for the clue and the wise men each week and anticipate their arrival at the front of the sanctuary.

Their five-week journey through the church reminds us that the wise men travelled a long way before they found Jesus. I imagine them stopping night after night under the stars or perhaps at an inn, resting before the next leg of their journey and wondering what the next day might bring.

In my imagination at least, the magi pause in their journey, and so remind me to pause in my own journey as well. Instead of staying up late and getting up early as I often do, I’m reminded to pause and get a good night’s sleep. Instead of rushing toward Christmas in a whirl of activity, I’m reminded to slow down and look for Jesus every day.

For me, taking this time to pause means that some things have been left undone. I don’t decorate a lot at Christmas, but I usually have our nativity scene and a few other special ornaments set up by now; instead, they’re still patiently waiting in the basement until I can get to them in the next day or two. I don’t do a lot of Christmas baking, but I usually do some; this year, I’ve made just one batch of cookies so far.

Yes, I’m busy with a lot of things as usual, but I’m also taking time to pause and savor this season. There is time to pause in expectation and wonder as God continues to work in our lives and in the world.

How are you taking time to pause this Advent season? Is there something that you need to leave undone in order to pause?

AprilYamasaki

April’s book Sacred Pauses is available from the MennoMedia store here. April posts regularly at her own blog, here.Twitter: @SacredPauses

 

 

The Complicated Legacy of John Howard Yoder: Part 2

About three months ago I wrote a blog post about how we at Herald Press and MennoMedia were responding to the complex issues surrounding the legacy of John Howard Yoder, considered by many to be the most influential Mennonite and Anabaptist theologian of the 20th century. That post can be found here, but a great deal has been written about this elsewhere, including the denominational process being led by Ervin Stutzman. (You can read the denomination’s John Howard Yoder digest here.)

Since then our management team, in consultation with our Board of Directors, drew up a statement about how we would respond, as the publisher of many of his works. In addition, I polled about 15 denominational publishing peers and received some interesting responses. Several responded that if any of their authors, especially if they were ordained ministers, were guilty of any sexual harassment or improprieties, they would cease publication of them immediately. Wow, that response caught me by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have. (In 1997, after he had completed a disciplinary process, we had decided to continue publishing his works, with the affirmation of the women involved in that process.) We also heard that another publisher of John Howard Yoder material was looking to put a statement of some kind into its published works. This created greater urgency for us, since, as the denominational publisher of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, we felt we were expected to give some leadership.

The most persistent question I have heard about this is, “Why does the church feel the need to deal with this now? Wasn’t it dealt with 15-20 years ago?” I asked Ervin Stutzman, Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA, to respond, and he said, “There has been a new wave of interest in the church on how to deal with sexual abuse. The 2013 decision by MennoMedia to print new material by John Howard Yoder without mentioning anything about his sexual abuse created a strong reaction. The church realized that there is unfinished work to do with the legacy of John Howard Yoder, especially as it relates to the victims who were involved.”

Keeping all of this in mind, and out of a sense of integrity as a denominational publisher, we decided that the best thing to do right now is to insert the following statement into the front of all John Howard Yoder books that we publish, as a “word from the publisher”:

John Howard Yoder (1927–1997) was perhaps the most well-known Mennonite theologian in the twentieth century. While his work on Christian ethics helped define Anabaptism to an audience far outside the Mennonite Church, he is also remembered for his long-term sexual harassment and abuse of women.

At Herald Press we recognize the complex tensions involved in presenting work by someone who called Christians to reconciliation and yet used his position of power to abuse others. We believe that Yoder and those who write about his work deserve to be heard; we also believe readers should know that Yoder engaged in abusive behavior.

This book is published with the hope that those studying Yoder’s writings will not dismiss the complexity of these issues and will instead wrestle with, evaluate, and learn from Yoder’s work in the full context of his personal, scholarly, and churchly legacy.

It is hard to judge a man who is now dead and cannot speak for himself. It is equally hard, perhaps harder, to hear the difficult stories of the women he abused and to realize the shame that too many have carried for so long.

Join me in hope and prayer that in the coming months the restorative justice process being led in the church will lead to good, constructive and redemptive outcomes.

~Russ Eanes

Executive Director, MennoMedia

EanesRuss