A couple weeks ago, Melissa Florer-Bixler, the pastor at Raleigh Mennonite Church, emailed us to ask if we might be interested in joining a group of folks who are thinking about starting a Mennonite Church in Charlotte. Excited about the possibility of a radical peace church in Charlotte, we said yes. What I know about Mennonites, I like, but I don't know a whole lot about Mennonites. I know they believe in the priesthood of believers, which means that each and every member of the church is gifted and able to preach, serve communion, interpret scripture, etc. I know they are a peace church, which means they actively engage in pacifist practice and advocacy. I know that there are different expressions of what it means to be Mennonites and that they also have a lineage and heritage that comes from Europe. I also know that they are Anabaptists, which makes them faith "cousins" to my roots as minister affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). All these things led me to be curious and hopeful for what might come from folks who are interested in a Mennonite gathering.
Now, there are some things that I was hesitant about. I'm in a stage of my faith that hold the conviction that because Jesus was a marginalized person in a marginalized society, that I need to practice faith and be led by marginalized people. Because the Mennonite folks I know are primarily white, educated, and upper middle class, I wonder what that means for my own sense of conviction. And I wonder if it is possible, in Charlotte, to gather the kind of people I feel like I need to practice faith with- LGBTQIA+, Anti-racist, multi racial, and across different social economic statuses.
On Sunday afternoon, 28 people gathered for a time of communal worship, fellowship, and discernment at QC Family Tree. 5 of those folks were my own family who were visiting from out of town. 6 of them were children who happened to be playing in the yard and joined us. Some traveled from as far as Columbia, SC and Monroe, NC. Melissa Florer-Bixler traveled from Raleigh.
Melissa started the service with a welcome and prayer. We sang spirituals and played hand instruments. When we sang about walking or marching, we walked or marched in a circle. We sat in the round, outside, with a table at the center. The elements for communion sat alongside a few liturgical tools- hymnals, Artists's Grief Deck. Folks volunteered spontaneously to read the selected scripture texts. I shared some recent reflections. There was time for communal response and sharing as well. We participated in communion and sang our way toward the sharing of food and departure.
After some informal connecting, 6 people brought chairs closer together to talk about starting a Mennonite Church in Charlotte. We talked about how we'd been looking for a church and each of us had settled in some expression of faith, but that they weren't quite the best fits. We talked about wanting to be actively embodying radical faith and intentionality. Melissa shared her thoughts about what it might take to form a faith community and the support that her congregation might like to provide to a Charlotte congregation. We left in agreement that we would continue to pray and discern possibilities and next steps through the next two weeks. We'll be coming together via zoom or in person in two weeks to see what comes.
I left hopeful and curious. When everything started, I could feel my "on" switch turned on. I could feel myself wanting to get things right and wanting to make a good impression. I could also feel myself settling in and remembering the joy of preaching and worship leadership. The folks gathered, their engagement, excitement, and willingness, made me feel at ease. The sharing time gave me a sense of relief. Folks weren't just there to consume a performance and leave. They were sharing deep and meaningful reflections and they acknowledged so many things that were important to me: the beauty of the space, the diversity of the people, the wild joy of the children, the art, the songs, women in leadership, the exegesis. They shared needs and concerns, curiosity and insight. It felt good.
Were there things missing? Yes. Are those things even possible? I'm not sure. Is it my job to make those things happen? I'm not sure about that either. Can I thrive in a faith expression that does not include some things I want or need? Probably. I'm not sure where this'll take us/me, but I am certainly curious and hesitantly excited about the possibilities.