A transformed spirit of listening

At Renewal 2027  – The Holy Spirit Transforming Us in Kisumu, Kenya, 21 April 2018, several people shared a testimony of experiencing the Spirit’s work changing people in the church. The columns in this section have been adapted from their presentations.

It was time to come together for a church community day and celebrate – but celebrate what? God’s faithfulness in the past in our long history despite the threat of decline in the present days? Our rich heritage still present in the churches today?

For the last 15 years, there had been no such gatherings in the Swiss Mennonite churches. The preparations for this one took two years.

We dedicated much time to find a theme to focus of our celebration.

  • Someone thought that as we gather together, all the distinct identities of our 14 churches should become visible, a landscape of profiles displaying the richness of the gospel of Christ incarnate in many forms of church communities, each quite different one from the other.
  • Someone else suggested that we model the letters to the seven churches in John’s revelation. Churches would be invited to write a letter imagining God would say about their church today: dangers, their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Someone else said that our churches need encouragement to step into renewal, to cast a vision for the future that would guide us in the years to come.

We listened to each other. We took home what was discussed, prayed it through, discussed it in other groups. 

When we came together again, the idea of writing a letter stuck with us. But we had concerns about taking the letters in Revelation as a model. Who can speak from God’s perspective? This might encourage us to judge one another.

Following the threads of what was in our hearts for our churches, we finally decided that we would indeed invite the churches to write a letter to all the other churches in our denomination.

But it should be a letter about hopes. Imagining 10 years into the future, they would look back on the time that now lies ahead. They would describe how God led them, what paths they travelled, what changes they went through. 

We invited them to write down their dreams for the future growth of their churches.

Would the churches respond? Would they show themselves so vulnerable before the others? We were not sure whether they were ready to do this work.

We took the risk.

The theme of the day would be “Morning Air.” Through the letters, we hoped to take in a fresh breath, an aroma of the future that God had laid on our hearts.  

The morning-wind of the coming kingdom of God was already present as a scent in our dreams.

The response was amazing.

  • Some churches asked if they could write two letters because they were about to found a new church.
  • Many churches gathered to discuss how they saw the 10 years ahead of them.
  • Most churches wrote a bold story, full of courage. They knew the challenges lying ahead. But they saw these coming changes as a birth of something new they were looking forward to.

This was a first transformation by the Spirit. We followed a scent already in the air. The faithful God weaving our future came to meet us in the present.

For our community day, we printed out all the letters on banners. With great curiosity, people from all churches gathered to read what others had written.

This day became the churches’ pledge to each other: We will pray for you, that God will fulfill what he has laid on your hearts, even if it is very different from what we imagine for our own future.

This was a second transformation. We recognized and affirmed that God is incarnating his gospel in many ways that complement each other.

At the end of the day, I asked the congregations to come forward with the panel displaying their letter. As the banners moved through the room, I suddenly saw that they were like sails, ready to catch the wind of God.

In the two years since, we have seen some of these dreams come to be realized.

As a conference, we are discovering common hopes that unite us. Some differences may create tensions that threaten our unity and need to be discussed. But the openness and sincere prayers of these letters ignite a renewed love for each other so that we can approach difficult questions that otherwise might break our unity.

Through a process of listening to each other, what God has laid on each heart, both on the level of local churches and conference leadership, we experienced God’s Spirit transforming us.

—Jürg Bräker is a member of the Deacons Commission. He is general secretary of Konferenz der Mennoniten der Schweiz (Alttäufer)/Conférence Mennonite Suisse (Anabaptiste), the Anabaptist church in Switzerland.

He spoke at Renewal 2027 – The Holy Spirit Transforming Us – in Kisumu, Kenya, 21 April 2018. This paper been adapted from his presentation.

This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier October 2018.