Celebration of Church Life 2020


By Brinton Rutherford.  

Despite months of planning and an incredible team, COVID 19 required the cancelation of Celebration of Church life in April of 2020. In these pages, you receive a brief introduction to what would have happened with website links to handout materials and summaries of the speaker content, which also can be watched in their entirety online at the LMC website or the LMC Youtube channel.

The Celebration of Church planning team expanded its level of planning in 2020 in preparation for the 2022 event that is planned to occur in Western Maryland near Deep Creek Lake resort. Moving the site of Celebration of Church life every three years is in response to the enlarged geographic footprint of LMC that occurred over the last two years. Decisions have been made to respect, honor, and include in meaningful ways the many congregations now in places as far away as Florida and Indiana to name a few locations. As a result, the planners now develop three events simultaneously at various stages of detail: theme, connection to the previous year, and connection to next year. To aid in multi-year planning, broad themes have been selected that have the potential to connect over multiple years. Last year’s theme of breaking new ground continues with this year’s theme of Welcoming Rain. The icon for both years contains previous elements as well as new ones. A similar result will occur next year. 

Glenn Kauffman delivers the plenary address,

The LMC website on the home page and on the Events page for Celebration of Church Life provides a lot of information. You will find an abbreviated version of the Information Booklet. The eReport of the resource partner organizations of LMC is on this page as well. The video content, summarized below, also has links for the video on this webpage. 

Glenn Kauffman’s plenary address, A Topsy-Turvy World, focused on the Celebration of Church Life theme, Welcoming Rain. He approached the theme by noting three homophones, words that sound the same but have different spelling and meaning. He talked about rain, reign, and rein. 

Working from Deuteronomy 32:1-2 and a story of a Jewish Rabbi, Glenn unpacks the theme of welcoming God’s refreshing rain.

Listen, you heavens, and I will speak; hear, you earth, the words of my mouth.

Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.

He notes that there is a relationship between the land and the rain that falls on it. “How desperate are you for the rain of God,” Glenn asks his hearers. With stories of people encountering rain, asks if we truly welcome the rain of God. 

From rain, Glenn moves to reign, the rule of a king, the reign of Jesus over the world. In a similar way, he asks us if we welcome the reign of God in our lives. Whether COVID 19, or rumors of wars of or racism or environmental concerns, what do we believe about God’s reign in our world.

The third homophone, rein, relates to the reins used to control a horse. He tells a dramatic story of drama between his grandfather and his horse, Ma, in a downpour and flooded stream. Do we welcome the restraint that God provides? Using his experience as a Bishop in bishop board meetings helps illustrate this idea of God using the reins with his people to lead and guide the church. 

Switching the metaphor a bit Glenn uses a kite and its control strong to explore a bit this reining of God’s people into the ways of God. “The beauty is the fact that there is an accountability on the kite through the string.” He concludes with a story from his ministry in Hong Kong as an EMM missionary. An elephant ride with his son provides a vivid illustration of the complexities of guiding LMC to and into God’s mission. “The Spirit of Jesus is pleased to cooperate and to lead us as his church.” “God is delighted in the fact that we are learning to trust him.”

LMC Moderator, Keith Weaver delivers the State of LMC address.

The State of LMC address by Keith Weaver has been an annual feature of Celebration of Church Life for decades. After some reflections on the pandemic that canceled the event, he focused on three things: LMC Missional Vision, LMC Circles of Relationship, and LMC Changing Structures.

Keith Weaver introduced the new Dwelling in the Word text (Acts 1:1-14) and a new Missional Vision for LMC captured in a new Missional Vision Statement that credentialed leaders worked on in the fall of 2019.  It reads, “A Spirit-led movement to make disciples of Jesus, to mobilize every member as a missionary, and to multiply faith communities locally and beyond.” He said, “We would be foolish to venture into God’s mission without the presence and guidance of the Spirit.” He called for a full-scale LMC reset in order to resource congregational multiplication. 

In Circles of Relationship, he addressed God’s initiative to restore the relationship between God and humans. Foremost we nurture a love relationship with Jesus. Out of that center, we enter into God’s mission. More broadly, he then addressed the need to embrace the neighbors around us. The next level of relationships is in the congregation, where teaching, fellowship, and discipleship takes place. The human milestone of birth, confession of faith, marriage, and death takes place. Districts represent another layer where bishops lead groups of congregations. This level of relationship is evaluating how it works together. The next level is all of the churches of LMC, a fellowship of congregations and a Spirit-led movement. This includes 50% of the congregations that are majority nonwhite. This statistic suggests that as a fellowship of congregations LMC needs to work at its cultural competency, at which it is working. The final circle is the global relationships that LMC has around the world and its connection to the Mennonite World Conference.

Finally, he talked about the Changing Structures needed to pursue and partner with the mission of God in our time. The decade-long discussion in LMC about change continues and perhaps has reached a tipping point. “By God’s grace, may it be so,” he said. Change is occurring and will continue to do so. Currently, there are four changes in the process. First, there is a change in spiritual authority under discussion; asking questions about accountability within the LMC system for moderator, bishops, and staff. Second, there is a goal to intentionally include all of the five-fold ministry offices (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher) instead of an emphasis on just two (pastor and teacher). To realize our new mission statement, we will need to organize around the mission of God. Third, there is a necessity to pay attention to our relationships in all of this change; our growing racial-ethnic diversity, our global relationships, and our expanded geography here at home. Fourth, it is essential for us to learn how to see and embrace a world of the invisible life of faith, especially as the temporal reality that seems so true shatters around us. 

Keith Nyce gives the youth address.

Celebration of Church Life 2020 expected to restart the Annual Youth Assembly. Keith Nyce’s address, “I hate you and want you to move,” provided a very dramatic, first-person experience with loving one’s neighbor working from Mark 12:28-31. His message broke into three parts; the tension, the story, and the resolution. “God continues to lead us,” he said, “to the new heaven and the new earth.”

In the tension, Keith described the immediate difficulty he had with one neighbor from the first day they moved in. On that first day, the neighbor announced,  “I hate you and want you to move.” Problems with Keith’s dog barking and notes from the neighbors on his mailbox set the general tenor for “the story.”  In the second part of the three-part address, Keith uses the story of Saul/Paul in Mark 12 as a backdrop for the challenges the followers of Jesus often encounter. Then in the resolution, part 3, we learn about the neighbor going to jail and returning, about the loan of a lawnmower, a handout after a fight, and generally things not getting better. Until one day as Keith was doing a job in the front yard without the proper tools. The neighbor arrived holding out his Sawzall. “Here. Use this. It has a new blade on it. I’ve been a jerk.” And Keith prayed for him, right there in his driveway.

Brinton Rutherford is an LMC staff person and attends Willow Street Mennonite Church.

watch online-visit lmcchurches.org/celebration-church-life/

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