The unplanned happenings of life give us an opportunity to see God at work in our midst. I think we witnessed this Sunday night at our final Anabaptist Learning Seminar session. We were talking about how our Christian beliefs translate into life, action and witness for Christians today. Sylvia, Denise and I decided ahead of time we would facilitate this discussion by placing our beliefs in dialogue with the 6 Core Values that HMC has earlier identified. Of those 6, we seemed to keep coming back to the centrality of our Location for all that we do. While all our values are connected, we were seeing the importance of our situated-ness with new eyes.
With these new eyes also came new ears to hear God’s call for us (through each other) to assess more clearly our neighborhood and what Doug Ensminger called “The Wirt Road Corridor.” Who are the people living in the Wirt Road Corridor? What are their needs? What resources do we have to share with them? We brainstormed ideas of how to spread God’s love into our neighborhood (ministry to low-income apartments, ESL classes, soup-kitchen one night a week, community garden, etc…). We also connected this conversation with our ongoing discussions regarding facility and grounds development. Together, we decided that a more thorough and complete assessment of our specific location within Houston would be very helpful.
Together, we decided that we would set aside three months to engage our community with the goal of understanding and mission. You’ll hear more about this later, complete with invitations to join us on this journey. But for now, it’s helpful to know that our situation is for whatever reason typical of Mennonites in the US. The 2006 Mennonite survey outlined in Road Signs for the Journey suggests a stark disconnect between Mennonite congregations and the neighborhoods within which their buildings stand. This disconnection from locality is paralleled by the Mennonite disconnect between what we understand to be our calling and what we’re actually doing. 73% of respondents said that “doing both evangelism and social ministry” was their top priority. But these activities were seen as the work of Mennonite mission agencies and not congregations situated in local communities. Conrad Kanagy says “Mennonite congregations do not appear to be primarily focused on their surrounding communities, and they tend to rate their internal congregational activity more highly than the work they are doing outside the congregation.” Why are so many of our Mennonite congregations disengaged from their surrounding community? And how might embracing the Wirt Road Corridor empower us more profoundly to pursue what Kanagy calls both “the transformation of individuals and of social structures and relationships”? In order to be faithful, Mennonite congregations like ours must be rooted and engaged in their local communities. The call from Sunday night is to understand and interpret our context for the purpose of fulfilling our mission and vision.
As you drive to church this Sunday, I invite you to look with new eyes at the neighborhoods, businesses and people our church is close to. And I invite you to listen with new ears to the sermon Sunday for clues as to how Jesus looked upon his own world and culture. Finally, I invite you to pray with new passion for the vision and mission of Houston Mennonite Church. For God is clearly at work in our midst!