As a seminary student I read some history of American women pastors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who saw their parish as both the gathered worshiping community on Sunday mornings, as well as the neighborhood or city in which they lived. Though small in number, Christian women pastors of this period not only nurtured rich congregational life, but also became disproportionately active in what were sometimes called social ministries—from improving sanitation to curbing alcohol abuse to advancing literacy to combating poverty and working for suffrage.
At Community Mennonite Church we’re steeping ourselves this year in a verse from Jeremiah that echoes through the life of Jesus and the history of missional congregations: Seek the SHALOM of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its SHALOM you will find your SHALOM. As your pastor I've had opportunity to connect with some of the people and situations in our city that are crying out for SHALOM—the justice, peace and salvation that is God’s will for all people and all creation.
Faith-based Justice Coalition? In May three local Mennonites (Harvey Yoder, Hadley Jenner and I) went to Charlottesville for a field trip to IMPACT Charlottesville for their annual Nehemiah Assembly where 1200+ people of faith gathered to ensure justice in some key decisions that would affect many people in their city in terms of mental health, housing, and employment. Impressed by what was working in C’ville, we began to dream about the possibility of a similar justice-focused group in our own community. By now we’re three formal meetings into building an actual faith-based justice coalition in Harrisonburg. A variety of Christian denominations are represented and we continue to reach out to other faith-based communities who also seek God’s justice in the world. We imagine our congregations jointly hiring an organizer in the future who could carry some of the administrative load, but in the start-up phase both volunteers and pastors allocate time to this emerging coalition. I’m pleased to give some of my energy each month to local justice concerns and see it as seeking the SHALOM of the city. I recognize the possibility of neglecting a congregation in favor of broader community engagements, but I don’t feel that we as a congregation are risking that. As a larger congregation with three pastoral staff members, I believe we have a responsibility to be engaged and reliable Christian leaders both within the congregation and in the broader community. Sharing some of our staff leadership resources in Harrisonburg is one way we pastors support the many CMCers whose daily life and work addresses local needs. Both the internal community of Community Mennonite Church and the host community of the city of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County shape my priorities as a pastor, so that together we seek SHALOM in the name of Christ.