mediation and grace

My former congregation has hired mediators to sort through the remnants. I use the word remnants, although some still in that Body may not appreciate this word. In any case, the mediators have begun collecting data via survey. I don’t know the starting date, but when we received ours late yesterday afternoon  (along with the people who have left included in the SEND TO line),  and noticed that the due date of today was being fudged to Friday, we realized that including us could not intentionally have been part of the original plan. Additionally,  the text of the cover letter does not address itself to us..neither to the disenfranchised and disheartened, or to the two of us (partner, Big Dawg and me), the nexus of the meltdown last May 31, Pentecost Sunday. Someone must have said something about having left us out for this to be coming so late in the game and with a cover letter so uninviting.

Dutifully out of love for God, those left behind, and the conciliatory process, I began to fill out the questionnaire, and got almost to the end before I  realized with a jolt that the survey was  composed and constructed for  those remaining in the congregation at whatever level.  It was inadequate and inappropriate for us—a couple who had been invited to membership, then blatantly uninvited in an atmosphere of fear, dissension and confusion—a betrayal from the top down. We replied, suggesting a personal interview was the more appropriate avenue where we are concerned. The suggestion was affirmed and the interview  will take place tomorrow evening by phone. We will not parse words.

We are certain that the mediators are fine people with a good skill-set, but we are baffled by what appears to be a lack of understanding concerning the whole picture. BD and I were the nexus of the meltdown—the stars, if you will—stars that got their shine splattered with neon gray deck paint! Now, as we contemplate the upcoming phone interview, we wonder what the mediators have in mind as their goal for this congregation (of which we are no longer part). Having set up a campaign that did not initially include us at any level gives us reason to question intent and goal. In the days since May 31, I  have come so often to questioning…what could they be thinking!!! when I hear the latest congregational news. I come again to this question, but with a sinking feeling. For a church whose problems reach back 20 years, a process begun badly has little chance of achieving more than a good facial at the salon. I despair, and at the same time, loathe having to talk about our experience again with people who (I fear) will not be able to break through the congregational retaining walls that contain the truth. From us, they will hear the truth. I don’t know what they will hear from the other principles.

I believe Matthew 18:15-20 is a recipe for living together in imperfection. I believe reconciliation (confession and forgiveness, not necessarily becoming best friends) is the only worthwhile goal to pursue. I don’t know if this congregation has charged these mediators with this goal in its totality…in it’s big picture formulation. So far, omissions seem to me to have been made at the time of contracting this mediating team. But, I don’t know. No one has told us anything, written, or phoned—no one but my dear friend who remains in the congregation hoping for an act of God (my cynicism entirely). She told us a few days ago that mediators had been hired, but didn’t know much else. Even yesterday, she wrote to say that she didn’t know who, representing what group, would get to be interviewed. This unknowing is typical of this congregation. Is it secrecy born of intent to deceive or of fearful inadequacy? Healthy leadership…the lack thereof…was and is still the foremost problem in this group.

One of the things I like about the congregation we where we are now is the openness…open nearly to excess sometimes, but open nonetheless. We are a small, disbursed congregation with an email listserve where news gets circulated. Anyone can post news or needs or announcements at will. This church went through the gay membership issue many years ago, nearly fractured apart. It came through battered, worn, but cohesively. Some left. That is inevitable. Those who stayed, did so out of conviction, and choice to be God’s people, rain or shine. We are welcome there and loved…sometimes more than we feel we deserve. That is Grace and that is God’s Word.

God’s voice shines in the darkness…listen, do you not hear it?

8 Responses to “mediation and grace”

  1. 1 Janie
    September 29, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    I just have to cling to the words of Sunday’s sermon: Who are they that mourn?…”they ae the ones who ache when they see someone beaten down”…”Blessed are those who mourn the absence of God’s kingdom in this world”…”Mourning and groaning are the sounds of the Holy Spirit.”

  2. 3 Luke
    September 29, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    Hi Naomi,
    I wanted to leave a comment on your site since I often read it. Good luck with re-entering this previous world! I’ve gone through phases of re-engaging my places of past betrayal and suffering (ie the Mennonite church in general) and always go in with the faith that, while I may have to relive some of that pain, I’ll emerge more fully healed and stronger once I’ve been through another round of it. Kind of like Rituxan 😉 So – with the grace of Christ that you offer LMC – you’re receiving another round of rituxan for the soul. I’ll be interested to hear your report of how it goes.

    Luke M (from Pink Menno)

    • 4 Naomi
      September 30, 2009 at 7:42 am

      Great response. Many thanks. Rituxan for the soul, eh? I’ll have to think about that. It’s only 7:40 A.M. so I’ll have quite a few hours to do so. Will let you know how the interview goes, either by blog or email.

      • 5 beth bontrager
        September 30, 2009 at 12:27 pm

        I have followed your story via several routes, most recently through your sharing on the church e-mail list. I’m so happy that the church my husband led through its struggle internally and with the conference for identity and discernment has blossomed into a place where you feel welcome and whole. Our prayers are with you as you close the LMC chapter this eve and offer your gifts, love and worship in a more welcoming place. I miss that place. I wish the Atlanta conference theme song would have been truthful throughout the Church, “To Everyone Born A Place At The Table.”

        • 6 Naomi
          September 30, 2009 at 1:33 pm

          Hello Beth, I made a quick call to Jeannie because I recognized your name, but didn’t have the match-up. Now I do and send you my warm regards, both to you and to Phil, whom I now know was the Lord’s fence-mender when the church was so immensely in need of healing. I am told that he worked with Virgil on this and this makes me glad. Virgil is a fine man, a good shepherd and has made humble amends with us. I lived in his household when I was at Reba Place in the 1970’s. I look forward to meeting you both one day and know that our church loves and misses you. Thank you so much for your prayers and love and all you both have done to make our church the “little church that could”. One Spirit, One God.

  3. 7 Natalya Lowther
    September 30, 2009 at 1:31 am

    I’ve had you in my thoughts and prayers along and along as I’ve followed your contributions to the MN list.

    I deeply empathize. I was concurrently “shunned” by the SUPPORTIVE CONGREGATIONS NETWORK Mennonite church I was baptized into in 2001, and “fired” by Mennonite Central Committee AFTER coming out in my application interview, being accepted as a volunteer, placed in an assignment, and serving a month and a half in a foreign country…and never by either body given an explanation of what my offense, exactly, was. MCC point-blank refused any sort of conflict resolution or mediation in the situation, in fact my request for such may have precipitated my firing. MCC’s action resulted in me being “transient” (i.e. invisibly homeless)and often unemployed for nearly 2 years.

    The former interim pastor of my church (whom I respect greatly, and who specialized in reconcilation/conflict resolution) arranged AT MY REQUEST an informal mediation between myself and the new pastor who was taking the reins just as I was returning from MCC and trying to reconnect with my church…with the net result that the new pastor has not, as of nearly 4 years later, communicated with me in any way.

    A year after being thrown out by MCC, my travels took me back to the MCC office that had “fired” me. I took up the courage to schedule an appointment. It turned out that no one who had been involved in the decision to “fire” me still worked for the agency…meaning that I will never know what happened and never have an option of reconciliation. The good news was that after 10 years they dispose of their records, thus I will again have a clean slate for MCC service in 2015.

    The situation with my beloved former church (formerly beloved church?) remains unaddressed in any way. The amputated hand wanders around bleeding while the body that has cut it off pretends it is not missing a member. The lost sheep stood at the gate, knocking, and the shepherd turned her back and tended only to the 99 in the fold. I can grasp two possibly viable outcomes: either help start a second Mennonite/Anabaptist congregation here, so I have somewhere to transfer my membership to, or wait until this pastor moves on to another church and then try to find a way back into communion with my church. Christianity is meant to be practiced as a member of a body of believers. It is a hard, lonely journey without one. I cleave to other bodies, temporarily, but they are not mine and we both know it. It is amusing and apalling, both, that the local Old Order German Baptist Church welcomes me as a stranger more than my progressive Mennonite church welcomes me as a longstanding member who has worked hard for the congregation before the “shunning”.

    Very, very painful. Yet God has used this pain to bring me closer to Him. I’ve learned that any institution created by humans, run by humans, peopled by humans, is a human institution and tends to sink to the least common denominator of its members, no matter how lofty its aspirations on paper. I’ve learned to put my faith in God instead of institutions. And I’ve found my own ministry work in many dimension through the adventures God has led me on.

    Time heals, God heals. But it is a grieving, above all, and grief is a slow, erratic, baffling process, wearying and slow. But in the end, full of spiritual treasure. Take heart! Others are with you on the lonely road, and you are in our thoughts and prayers.

    “Religion is for those who don’t want to go to Hell; spirituality is for those who’ve already been there”…too often at the hands of religion itself.


  4. 8 Anne
    October 7, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Wow! This final quote in Natalya’s comment is striking. I hope I can remember it. So true.

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