Tag Archives: featured

Hope as Church Unravels? Part 1, The Unraveling

KCMainBlogPostThumb200x200x72When I became a seminary dean in 2010, I knew there was a lot I didn’t know and especially, if I dare echo Donald Rumsfeld, a lot that I didn’t know that I didn’t know. But among the more important things I didn’t know was just how dominated my tenure would be by unravelings and ways this would call for constant assessment of what was worn out, what was working, what needed to be thrown out, what needed to be rethought, renewed, or reaffirmed.

In light of such ferment and sometimes chaos, which has been constant yet is also perhaps even intensifying at the moment, I’d like to think “aloud” about what’s happening and what we might do about it through a six-part series of blog posts asking, can we find “Hope as Church Unravels?”

The first and introductory post is this one, on “The Unraveling.” Here let me first say more about what is unraveling then preview the next five  posts.

Indeed denominational structures and loyalties are unraveling. This is true of many denominations, not least my own. As I write, the structures of my denomination, Mennonite Church USA, have been thrown into near-chaos not only by all the larger forces tugging at all denominations’ stability but also specifically by explosive effects of divisions over how LGBTQ relationships should be viewed. Regional conferences are processing whether to secede from MC USA. Congregations are discerning whether to leave conferences. Individual participants debate whether to stay or leave as their congregations sometimes confirm and sometimes repudiate their personal beliefs.

Reflecting on such realities, Paul Schrag, editor of Mennonite World Review, has asked this dramatic question: “What if Mennonite Church USA stopped being a denomination? Or stopped being, period.” He makes the provocative point that if instead of remaining bogged down in managing declining structures amid constant divisions, we could invest our energies in building a looser but much larger tent for a host of Anabaptist-related entities.

Longstanding quid-pro-quo understandings between pastors and congregations are unraveling. It used to be the case that this was the basic pact: Future minister, denominations and congregations would say, you go to seminary for three years, and even if you come out in debt things will be fine; we’ll give you a job and we’ll pay you enough to make at least a modest living and not be swamped forever in debt. We might even help pay for your tuition.

Ministers would say okay then, I’ll invest in getting the scholarly and formational training that will allow me to serve you with passion, wisdom, and integrity.

And together we’ll generate enough mutual commitment to maintain salaries, buildings, programs drawing many congregants in turn willing to provide support when the offering basket comes by. We’ll celebrate a virtuous cycle producing good will, high morale, and long-term sustainability.

In many established congregations and contexts this pact, in fact, remains intact. But under stressors of declining loyalties, shrinking congregational participation and giving, the sometimes welcome but often forced need to make ends meet through bivocational pastoring (not to mention external economic pressures), in many other settings this pact is unraveling.

In tandem, long-standing patterns of theological education are unraveling. This is evident in a simple statistic yet one that has had high impact on my seminary work: for over 10 years, since reaching a peak in 2004, cumulative enrollment at seminaries in North American has declined most years by about half a percent a year.

Many are sounding alarms or analyzing causes, but let me touch on just two.

Take, for instance, the thinking of M. Douglas Meeks, Cal Turner Chancellor Professor of Theology and Wesleyan Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. As summarized by reporter Heather Hahn in “Does U.S. Theological Education Have a Future?” Meek believes that due to a growing shortage of teachers amid the headwinds denominations and seminaries are facing, “United Methodist theological education in the United States is in a crisis, and a longtime scholar says if trends persist the modern way of training pastors could disappear altogether.”

Or take the bracing view of Kyle Roberts, Associate Professor of Public and Missional Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. His very blog post title, After the Fall of Professional Ministry, What?, makes a riveting claim. Roberts says that

As much of the American church continues to decline (especially mainline Protestantism and now also conservative (white) evangelicalism) and as the “nones” and “dones” increase by leaps and bounds, particularly among millennials, major questions loom for institutions in these circles. Fewer people means less money, less money means fewer jobs, fewer jobs means declining human resources (and therefore less creativity and energy) to “right the ship.”

Roberts offers a summary of how seminaries are addressing such dynamics which I find painfully familiar, given that we’ve been working at precisely such possibilities at EMS:

Many seminaries are experiencing the implications of the dramatically changing landscape. Some are trying their best to adjust expectations and to creatively and constructively adapt to the change. They can do this by shortening curriculum (and therefore lowering cost to students), by revising marketing strategies, by seeking out creative partnerships, etc. Others are simply doubling-down on what they’ve always done: pushing harder for donations, marketing the same but more intensely, trying to be even better at academic theology, practical ministry skills, traditional pedagogy, and so on.

Roberts’ next statement, however, sends a chill up my spine even as it also makes me want to take up his challenge:

But for these institutions to survive, must less thrive, into the uncertainty of the looming future, I wonder if something deeper and more fundamental is needed. We might need to think again about the nature of ministry itself.

Evident in both Meeks and Roberts, and frequently articulated by others, is the possibility that what we face today in our denominational and  seminary journeys—as well as in the larger cultural dynamics with their own chaotic, fast-changing impacts—is not just the need for incremental adjustments. Rather, much of what we’ve taken for granted, held dear, clung to for generations may need to be rethought and reinvented.

At the same time, persons of faith have always encountered periods of particularly intense change, not least during the first century, or when the Roman Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the state religion after centuries of the empire’s persecution of Christians, or during the 1500s Protestant Reformation.

Still, even if sometimes in dramatically changed forms, the gospel has persisted and even flourished. This suggests that rethinkings or reinventions shouldn’t simply start anew but should draw on the wisdom of those who have wrestled things out over millennia.

So how do we move forward with due benefit of what has been combined with requisite openness to what is to be? I don’t claim to know the answers. I’m as bewildered sometimes as any of us by what to do when on the one hand business as usual isn’t working yet on the other hand employees deserve to be paid and the budget needs to be balanced and if we don’t change it may all crumble yet if we do change and don’t get it right it may all crumble.

However, each year at about this time I particularly try to reflect on this or that aspect of such matters in start-of-semester seminary convocations. So in each of the next five posts I’ll draw on materials prepared for an Eastern Mennonite Seminary convocation, culminating in the still-in-preparation presentation I’m due to present on September 1, 2015, and will share as a post soon after. Here is a preview of the posts:

Part 2 will be “A Bible As Big As the Universe.” I see this post as laying a foundation for what is to come. Here I explore how I’ve learned to love the Bible as an endless source of wisdom and guidance for any people in any circumstances over the millennia–yet also to trust that the Bible is strong enough for us to tussle with it, argue with it, challenge it when old verities seem to unravel.

Part 3 will be “From Position Statements to Communities of Discernment.” Here, amid our many divisions regarding what the Bible says or what understandings God is calling us to, I look for ways we might move from win-lose patterns of relating. How might we instead join in communities of discernment focused on the teachings of Jesus under guidance of the Holy Spirit in which even our differences—and sometimes especially our differences—become resources and treasures? I draw on case studies related to slavery, understandings of same-sex relationships, the role of women, or war and peace.

Part 4 will be “Grandparents Dreaming, Grandchildren Seeing.” Here I explore “Christian Formation in an Age of Nones.” I suggest “We should plunge into the yearnings and questions giving birth to the Nones” (those answering “none of the above” when surveyed regarding their commitment to a given faith tradition).  And I offer this guess: “Courageous exploration of how the church has died needs to be paired with hope that not all structures, not all traditions, not all sacred scriptures and holy rhythms and rules are ready for the dead-bones heap.”

Part 5 will be “Recognizing Jesus When Phone Booths Vanish.” Here I draw on the Luke 24 story of the disciples, grief-stricken and bewildered on the Emmaus Road, being joined by a stranger who is precisely the Jesus they’re grieving. How do we, like they, not recognize the Jesus already among us? And how does this connect with the question of whether we’re sometimes structuring church life or seminary training as if the required expertise were to repair phone booths—when in fact in an era of cell phones, phone booths have vanished?

Part 6 will be “Present at the Big Bang.” Here I want more than anything else to testify, starting with observing the process in my own granddaughter, to the miracle of our becoming ourselves. And I want to ask how, in deep and primal ways, seminary training and our lives in community with each other form us as the selves God invites us to be. Much is unraveling; miracles of weaving and reweaving also abound.

Though not speaking here officially on behalf of EMS, Michael A. King is dean, Eastern Mennonite Seminary; blogger and editor, Kingsview & Co; and publisher, Cascadia Publishing House LLC.

Tenderly Inviting All to Christ’s Banquet

KCMainBlogPostThumb200x200x72For long decades now I’ve dreamed of a setting in which we could learn how—offering each other the tenderness for which every human so longs—to pull out chairs for every single one of us who wish to do so to sit at Christ’s banquet table. I’ve dreamed of Jesus our host and we as his body,  with the courtesy such a momentous moment so deserves, together pulling out each other’s chairs and helping each one of us be seated.

In my circle of innermost loved ones, including family and dear friends, are those who as soon as same-sex marriage became legal in their respective states married long-time partners. Others in that same circle are against this and have been troubled that, for instance, my employer Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) opened a hiring policy review and listening process to discern whether to hire persons in same-sex relationships. I wish for all of these dear ones to be at the banquet table. I wish for the table to groan with such amazingly nurturing and varied foods that all can eat with joy.

I speak of this dream now because I’m deeply moved to see confirmed a context for extending such tenderness and for continuing to test and learn how it’s done in ways that honor all at the table. Last Thursday, July 16, 2015, the EMU Board of Trustees voted to pass this action:

Eastern Mennonite University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or any legally protected status. As a religious institution, Eastern Mennonite University expressly reserves its rights, its understandings of, and its commitments to the historic Anabaptist identity and the teachings of Mennonite Church USA, and reserves the legal right to hire and employ individuals who support the values of the college.

In speaking to the EMU community, Board Chair Kay Nussbaum and President Loren Swartzendruber indicated that

Therefore—as we affirm the goodness of singleness, celibacy, and sexual intimacy within the context of a covenanted relationship (marriage)—our hiring practices and benefits will now expand to include employees in same-sex marriages. The Board of Trustees and EMU leadership believe this is the right decision for Eastern Mennonite University as an institution at this time.

I’m moved because through such action I do hear EMU (along with Goshen College, whose board made the same decision) inviting persons and entities like these to that wobbly version of Christ’s table  which is the best we know how to offer each other on earth: my own divided loved ones, students who wrestle with each other’s differing understandings, those holding multiple perspectives within EMU, those pained by fractures within Mennonite Church USA and the range of denominations  an ecumenical EMU serves, persons forming EVANA as a network of Mennonite congregations both intersecting with but also sometimes providing alternatives to MC USA perspectives, and so many more.

I recognize that it’s right about at this point that things get complicated: Some brothers and sisters in Christ have already had a table setting.  A question they’re wrestling with is whether, if they view it as violating faithfulness to Scripture, they can still experience nurture at the table if others fully join them.

This is a riddle I don’t entirely  know how to solve. That’s why I addressed it in various ways in my seven-part “Blogging Toward Kansas City” series. That’s why I’ve basically said God, I don’t know how this can be done or if it can be done, give us a Pentecost miracle.

I think Nussbaum and Swartzendruber address the riddle when they say that

We are keenly aware of the deep divide within our denomination—as well as the broader Christian Church—regarding the inclusion of LGBTQ individuals. We mourn the broken relationships and pain for people with differing understandings of Scripture and what it means to live as Christ called us to live. We remain deeply committed to Mennonite Church USA and Anabaptist values as an institution.

They don’t offer a magic wand. But I draw hope from their recognition of the riddle and from their closing invitation calling

for respect and care in our community as people from a variety of perspectives hear about this decision. Thank you for extending grace and compassion as we move forward living and learning in community together.

As dean of the seminary division of an EMU now operating within our new hiring policy, I know there is much journeying to be done.  We’ll need at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and EMU to learn more of what it means to experience our new banquet table. We’ll need to discern how to share what we learn in a wider church still wrestling with who belongs at the table and how.

We’ll need to continue to benefit from insights of those who, whether internally or externally, disagree with our new non-discrimination commitments. In fact, I believe we’ll have succeeded in honoring the spirit of our new policy precisely to the extent we’re able to invite persons who disagree to be among those who experience themselves as part of an “us” tenderly pulling out for them their banquet chair.

And so I am daring to dream toward learning more about Pentecost through this EMU/EMS laboratory within which I’m privileged to serve. During that first wild Pentecost, winds gusting and flames falling, those gathered so trembled in the Holy Spirit that they were thought drunk with wine as a miracle unfolded: tribes from countless nations understood each other across so many divisions in culture and thought and language. Might the winds and flames similarly fall on us as we invite all to Christ’s table?

I don’t want to claim we at EMU and EMS already fully know how to embody Pentecost. Even as, starting in 1917, the shapers of EMU have fervently sought the guidance of the Spirit all along, as frail humans we’ve still only begun to grasp how large the Spirit’s work among us might be. But I do view us as committed to seeking, together, to invite the Spirit to use us as a laboratory for testing how we all take chairs at the table. Through the EMU Board decision, I see us as making two critical, historic moves:

First, we’re saying not, as we so often have, that all must hold the same LGBTQ-related theology to be at the table; rather, we’re saying that we’ll start with all at the table. Then we’ll continue to wrestle carefully and discerningly—attending to Jesus, Scripture, the core Anabaptist-Mennonite values of MC USA, and insights of the church universal—with how God is speaking amid our varying and sometimes opposing perspectives.

Second, we’re saying that from now on at EMU those who identify as LGBTQ will not be persons the rest of us talk about and whose presence or absence at the table others make decisions about. From now on those of us who identify as LGBTQ will be part of the new EMU “us” we can all now jointly and gently and tenderly form. Even as disagreements in our community will continue and indeed—as befits an institution of higher learning—be treasured, we’ll find our way together into the future of EMU and of EMS within EMU.

I pray that we’ll experience a few more chapters of a Story in which, as Jesus puts it in Luke 14, those who feel most welcome at the table take the lowest place, and those who feel least welcome at the table are in fact invited first.

Though not speaking here officially on behalf of EMS and EMU, Michael A. King is dean, Eastern Mennonite Seminary, a division of Eastern Mennonite University; vice-president, EMU; blogger and editor, Kingsview & Co; and publisher, Cascadia Publishing House LLC.


ShMHKC2015poste was spellbound. As I watched her, the spell stretched over to bind and bless me too.

We were flying away from a week that had included hurt and sorrow for many. Our denominational convention in seeking to strengthen the ties that bind us in Christian love had sometimes achieved this but also sometimes torn the threads.

Soon enough she’ll need to be finding her own path through all the ways we wound each other. In fact, because she was born into this flow of pain going back to the very beginning, back to the angel with the flaming sword barring the return to Eden, she too is already wounded. All of us who care for her are already in ways known and unknown shaping her not only through our love but also through the frailties our own births into the brokenness have formed in us.

But right then she was spellbound. I imagine she couldn’t even grasp the concept of flight; I doubt she understood that she was in a vast airborne bus and that what she was seeing was thousands of feet below her. Yet as the plane descended, quickly now, toward the runway, the houses and trees and cars were turned golden by the setting sun and at the same time the lights of approaching night began to flick on all across the landscape. She can’t talk yet so I don’t know precisely how her brain was relaying the magic to her. Yet the wonder of it did seem to have caught her attention.

In turn, she caught my attention, this dear granddaughter reminding me that there are more primal ways to experience the world than my grizzled, aging self, too caught up in life’s complexities to see much more than the burdens, often manages. And witnessing her spell then opening myself to it did envelop me in grace.

My granddaughter’s spell took me back to those first days of creation, when God hovered over the face of the chaos, over all that was formless and void, and spoke into being light and dark, mountains and valleys, dry land and heaving seas, trees and flowers, amazing animals, cool bugs and irritating but needed critters, birds singing and getting their early worms (or hopping around Amtrak’s 30th Street Station gobbling noodles, as happened on Sunday), women and men and children in all their endless varieties. I remembered that God looked upon all this and marveled at how good it was.

I saw that my granddaughter, though lacking the words or concepts to explain it, was present to it. In her wordless way, she was treasuring it. Even amid the grief and pain that was still much with me and will long be with us, gratefully I joined her in the worship.

—Michael A. King is blogger and editor, Kingsview & Co; dean, Eastern Mennonite Seminary; and owner, Cascadia Publishing House LLC

Blogging Toward Kansas City, Part 1: Introduction


BarnFullPaintingOpen200x200x72Recently both Ron Sider and Tony Campolo have been commenting on LGBTQ relationships. They hold opposing views. Nothing unusual about that these days—but their lives have long intertwined and only recently did Campolo announce he no longer shared Sider’s perspectives. Both were professors at Eastern Baptist (now Palmer) Theological Seminary in the 1980s, when I was drawn there partly because of them (and became Ron’s student assistant and later co-author of a book on preaching).

When Campolo announced his change of  views, he said, “Rest assured I have already heard—and in some cases made—every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage, including those of Dr. Ronald Sider, my esteemed friend and colleague at Eastern University.”

Meanwhile Sider has been articulating his understanding that on the one hand a church too often homophobic  needs to be clearer than it has been that welcome is extended to anyone who is “an openly gay, celibate Christian.” On the other hand, Sider underscores this foundational understanding: “the Bible affirms the goodness and beauty of sexual intercourse—and everywhere, without exception, it is sexual intercourse between a man and a woman committed to each other for life.”

I think of these colleagues, leaders, mentors reaching such different conclusions. I think of circles of loved ones, including my own, in which the Campolo/Sider differences are woven into the very fabric of  souls and relationships. God’s gracious arms reach out to welcome those of us who identify as LGBTQ and seek profoundly committed relationships within which to love and be loved, say some members of the circle. Yes, and I join you in extending that embrace, say other members. No, says a different member, sometimes a parent, sometimes a child, sometimes a sibling, sometimes a dear friend. That’s a false grace, an erosion of faithfulness to the Bible; if I support you  in cheap grace, I’ve failed truly to love you.

It’s because I think of these faces and relationships, so dear and yet so torn, that I can find no other approach for myself than to yearn for a community that tries for the miracle of embracing us all, in all our oppositions, in all our alienations. I ache for a community that asks us to live in the pain of holding dear even the other I believe so wrong.

How we address these matters has long been crucial for Mennonite Church USA, the denomination to which I belong, which has in recent decades joined many other denominations and faith communities in struggling to discern, amid deep divisions, how to view same-sex relationships. A number of times, particularly since the early 1980s, MC USA or its predecessor denominations have reached high-voltage junctures.

Now we’re approaching another one: “Kansas City 2015,” a biennual convention of Mennonite Church USA, its opening worship slated for the last night of this month and key discussions of sexuality resolutions scheduled for July 2. At Kansas City the stakes may be historically high as some would wish for full and unambiguous inclusion of persons who identify as LGBTQ, others want MC USA to maintain a traditional position reserving marriage and full expressions of sexuality for men and women, and some speak of a “forebearance” in which we agree to walk patiently with those holding views with which we disagree.

The fact that I’ll be among writers providing Mennonite World Review with a blog post on Kansas City 2015 got me thinking about “Purdue 87″—the last time I reported on a denominational assembly. I wondered what I would learn from reviewing my impressions 28 years ago in preparation for this 2015 reporting. I was struck, to use an unoriginal line, by how much has changed and how much has remained the same—including in relation to LGBTQ relationships.

So I want to draw on the angle of vision shaped in me through being a reporter on and delegate at Purdue 87. I also want to test the perspectives I’ll be taking to Kansas City, because some of them may be wearing out. It’s not clear to me, for instance, that the dream I’ve articulated above, of somehow including all in the MC USA wing of the body of Christ, whether straight or LGBTQ, whether or not we agree, will survive developments that may lie ahead.

To work at such testing, let me first say more about the potential cross-connections between Purdue 87 and Kansas City 2015. Then I’ll overview the seven-part series of “Blogging Toward Kansas City” posts through which I envision working at the testing.

Many of us expect Kansas City 2015 to be a difficult convention. Blogging for The Mennonite, pastor Jessica Schrock Ringenberg has said that “I am dreading convention” and that even though she normally loves conventions, “this year I have a pit in my stomach that makes me feel sick every time I even think about it. ” This, she explains, is because so many of us are confronted with how we answer “The Question” amid awareness that the stakes are high and depending on setting any answer can get us in trouble.

Meanwhile Purdue 87, held at Purdue University in Indiana, has become famous (or infamous) in Mennonite circles for its adoption of what was to become known as the “Purdue statement.” This was when two denominations, the (Old) Mennonite Church (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) were still years from finalizing their merger and reconfiguration into Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. Thus the GCs, still holding separate assemblies, had the prior year adopted their own similar statement in Saskatoon. The overlapping statements were thereafter often referred to as “Purdue/Saskatoon” and continue to be referenced in MC USA’s current membership guidelines.

There was plenty to confront at Purdue. The July 28, 1987 issue of the Gospel Herald reported that this is what happened when the delegate sessions turned toward consideration of sexuality: “Ushers had to turn people away at the doors . . . as debate got underway on the final report of the Human Sexuality in the Christian Life Committee.”

The report highlighted that on these matters “Mennonites express considerable diversity and can’t agree on what the Bible teaches. . . .” It explained that by a large majority delegates approved the Purdue statement, which both affirmed that full expressions of sexuality are reserved for heterosexual marriage and articulated a covenant “to study the Bible together on the subject and to dialogue with each other.”

The full text of the Purdue statement actually said much more about dialogue:

 We covenant with each other to mutually bear the burden of remaining in loving dialogue with each other in the body of Christ, recognizing that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and that the Holy Spirit may lead us to further truth and repentance. We promise compassion and prayer for each other that distrustful, broken, and sinful relationships may experience God’s healing.

We covenant with each other to take part in the ongoing search for discernment and for openness to each other. As a part of the nurture of individuals and congregations we will promote congregational study of the complex issues of sexuality, through Bible study and the use of materials such as Human Sexuality in the Christian Life.

The Gospel Herald summary of those paragraphs entirely through the word dialogue points to the possibility that delegates may not have grasped, as was exemplified in To Continue the Dialogue, edited by C. Norman Kraus (Pandora Press U.S., 2001),  just how momentous, complicated, and contentious the covenant to dialogue would prove to be. For long years and through many interpretive permutations the church wrestled with what it had committed itself to. Was it to continue conversing about how to care for each other even as the reserving of marriage for a man and a woman was non-negotiable? Or was there readiness to allow the Holy Spirit to shed further light on how holy sexuality might come to be viewed as extending to same-sex relationships?

The report on sexuality ended with these words, in parentheses: “(Gay and lesbian Mennonites in attendance at Purdue 87, through a statement they issued later, said they felt ‘rejected’ by the action.)”

A number of thoughts emerge as I ponder what happened at Purdue 87 combined with Ringenberg’s dread (along with countless more, I’d guess) of Kansas City.

(1) A first thought is that we might want to be sobered. Again and again Mennonites have sought paths for putting divisions over sexuality to rest. Yet as Ringenberg’s comments highlight, no such destination seems in view. Whatever resolutions are adopted or rejected at Kansas City, it may be instructive to ponder to what extent the Purdue delegates could have forecast developments they wittingly and perhaps mostly unwittingly contributed to.

(2) As one whose own belief in my ability to see the future has been chastened, I want to underscore being much more uncertain than I once was that I grasp which choices will yield which results 28 years from now.

(3) In the aftermath of Purdue it has long seemed to me that there will be no putting behind us divisions over sexuality unless we find some clean, clear, genuine way to live with diversity of understandings. I see no way forward that fails to provide for what I’d call “faithful dissent” or some call “variance”—a term not yet common in 1987 but now pulled to the forefront by the reality that any effort to forestall variance has ultimately only energized it.

In relation to sexuality, Mennonites faithfully seeking to submit to Scripture, God, the teachings of Jesus, and the sanctity of conscience continue to reach different conclusions. And far from shrinking through the passing of time, through efforts to finalize sexuality-related discernment, or through the hope that just one more statement will permit us to move on to other things, the differences have widened year after year. If Kansas City 2015 doesn’t provide in some way for variance, I expect the struggles that led to the Purdue statement and then were fed by decades of conversation over what Purdue (and Saskatoon) really meant will unfold once again.

Simultaneously, I recognize that precisely my conviction that space for faithful dissent is essential for moving beyond the decades of impasse is in the end an ingredient of the impasse. Others believe that a clarity not muddled by the faithful dissenters is key. Thus we find ourselves impaled once more on the horns of the dilemma.

(4) Finally, amid all the pre- and post-merger streams of MC USA have faced during the past generation, here we still are, often saddened if not wiser (that remains to be seen) but still traveling on.

On the one hand, there is plenty to mourn. We’re so at odds that MC USA entities are deciding to leave MC USA and to invest in alternative denominational structures or networks. Total MC USA membership is down by thousands when contrasted with 1987’s comparable statistics.

On the other hand, beyond the dread Ringenberg understandably articulates, I also detect ongoing passion and anticipation. And even dread is a marker of intense investment in the church. Many of my Mennonite colleagues and friends report a sense, which I share, of readiness to trust the Holy Spirit, to let go of dreams that may prove unworkable, to dream new dreams, to contribute to the fresh ways of shaping the body of Christ that may emerge if old ways come undone.

So I believe Purdue 87 is instructive. Looking back may help us understand what we do or don’t want to decide next. Yet precisely because we’ve been at this for decades now, Kansas City and the journey beyond will likely not simply reenact Purdue. Kansas City can take us into new fields and forests and cities and churches of that better country, God’s country of Hebrews 11, awaiting those who by faith leave behind what has been and travel toward “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

As I seek to be a voyager to that better country and to report on it at Kansas City, I want to prepare myself. That takes me back to this “Blogging Toward Kansas City” series, which I conceptualize this way:

Part 1 is this introductory post. Then I envision six more posts, five of them reprints with contemporary introductions of past essays or columns. This one and the last are intended to offer largely new writing.

Part 2 will focus on “Who Are You, My Audience?” my original report on Purdue 87.

Part 3 will reprint “On Not Knowing the Truth Before We Find It.” Here through evolution and “intelligent design” (as framed by lessons from my grandchildren) I explore how, if we truly believe our knowledge is fallible—as I do—we might establish models for pooling our insights to achieve something grander than any of us alone can manage.

Part 4 will feature my article “Painholders on Holy Ground,” in which I ponder the riddle of the “open” being closed to the “closed” and the “closed” being closed to the “open” and wonder if “painholders” offer us hope for a way forward.

Part 5 will reprint “Double Conversion,” in which I draw on the story of Peter and Cornelius and a worship service to yearn for ways we could lay our divisions at the foot of the cross.

Part 6 will offer my recent article on “Honoring Conscience in Plays and Sexuality Wars.” Here, amid rising doubt as to whether we can find reconciliation across such different voices of conscience, I still yearn for the Holy Spirit to offer us a Pentecost miracle.

Part 7 will be my new blog post from Kansas City, “Bending the Curve,” deadline 6:00 p.m., July 1, slated to appear both in Mennonite World Review and here in Kinsgview & Co. I look forward to journeying with you.

Michael A. King is blogger and editor, Kingsview & Co; dean, Eastern Mennonite Seminary; publisher, Cascadia Publishing House LLC; and author, Fractured Dance: Gadamer and a Mennonite Conflict over Homosexuality (Pandora Press U.S., 2001),

Editor’s note: As was also the case with its prior incarnation, DreamSeeker Magazine, Kingsview & Co is not intended to be mostly about our divisions over same-sex relationships. But for the next few weeks, amid the potential for major developments in my denomination, it often will be.