These are strange and exciting days for the small Mennonite fellowship I’m part of. We finally have a building of our own.
I suppose we are about 10 years old, though we’ve taken many rapidly mutating forms over that decade. The group was first brought together by a student from the college where I’m on faculty, as part of an internship for her major. She was a Mennonite herself (rare at our evangelical school) and studying Christian ministry. She teamed up with a faculty member who’d been commuting 70 miles to a Menno church in another city, and formed a small home fellowship.
After this student graduated, the handful of college faculty, staff, and students kept meeting each week, moving from living room to living room in their own homes, singing a few songs, saying a few prayers – basically just making it up as they went along. Members came and went over the months and years. My wife and I started showing up for the Sunday afternoon worship services when numbers averaged around 20 or so, split evenly between students and older adults.
It’s now 7 or 8 years later, and we are up around 45-50 people, long since too big for anyone’s livingroom, and starting to outgrow the small room we’ve been borrowing in a friendly local Methodist church building. In addition to a ballooning population of students, there are several more families, a bunch of little kids, even babies.
So last week we signed papers to rent a village storefront on Main Street.
It’s a former dance studio, which is kind of cool, but in pretty cruddy shape. Last night 15 of us got together to give the whole place a solid cleaning before our first meeting in our new location. Afterwards, a few of us “oldtimers,” who remember when the whole congregation could fit on a folded-out sleeper sofa, sort of looked at each other and wondered, “What have we done?!”
What’s it mean that we now hold possession of a structure of our own in which to gather? Will we lose the comfortable ease of sitting cross-legged on the floor around a makeshift lawn-chair altar? Will we start forming committees in order to keep the floor mopped? Will everyone tithe enough to pay rent and utilities? What’s next? A church board? An authoritarian pastoral staff? Schism over what color to paint the gymnasium?!
We talked honestly and openly about our hopes and anxieties around this big step in our life together.
Our conference minister, an old school Mennonite who really knows what this stuff is about instead of just playing at it like I sometimes feel I’m doing, has been overseeing our congregation and enjoying our enthusiasm and odd ways for years. I think he sees us as an energizing force, breathing new life into a conference of churches with falling numbers and traditional ways.
He’s advised us to “Hold lightly to what we take on, and hold tightly to each other.”
This sounds like a very Menno thing to say, and I’ve been wondering what it might mean for us.