(Author’s Note: This entry will appear in an upcoming issue of Mennonite Weekly Review. It does contain a paragraph from an earlier blog…)
Chicago is one of my favorite cities. I especially like its public transit system. It’s easy to use and gets me everywhere I need to go and I don’t have to deal with the traffic.
A few years ago while riding the Red Line, a man came up to me and asked if I had a personal relationship with Jesus. It was late at night, I was tired and not really interested in talking to anyone, but this guy wanted to know something about my eternal status. I was the only person in the train car. I turn and acknowledged his presence.
Before I had a chance to tell this man about my status with Jesus, he launched into a creative rendition of the four spiritual laws.
By the time he came to the end of his speech, I wasn’t sure how to respond or, to put it more accurately, I had not been given the opportunity to respond. It was clear that his goal was to have me pray the sinner’s prayer. From what I could tell, he wasn’t interested in anything else I had to say.
On that evening, this Mennonite pastor prayed the sinner’s prayer just to get rid of the messenger.
On that evening, I learned a valuable lesson.
If you are going to ask a question, wait for a response. Assumptions are demeaning and belittling.
Most of us have been guilty of asking questions and thinking we already know the answers.
For the next 14 months, Hugo Saucedo and I have been asked to lead a nation-wide urban listening tour for Mennonite Church USA. It is the expressed desire of Mennonite Church USA leadership to have urban pastors and church workers shape the urban Mennonite agenda.
Listening is not always comfortable or easy. People say unexpected things. Conversations go in unanticipated directions.
Listening is not easy, but it is fruitful.
The first words Patricia Running-Bear said to me during my first week at DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection), were, “Don’t tell us how to do anything until you have been here 10 years.” Patricia was the administrative assistant to the director of the Denver Inner City Parish. To her, I was the latest in a series of white men who had come to Denver’s west side to try to do some good.Being told to hang around for 10 years seemed like a waste of time. After all, I had been to seminary, was well-read on urban issues and had a natural inclination to fix things. I wanted to work for justice and be a voice for the voiceless.
But vital, significant ministry is not instant or quick. Mutual trust takes time and a willingness to listen. Open, honest conversations become the bedrock for mutual trusting relationships. Mutuality, in turn, leads to shared vision. Shared vision creates ownership.
Urban centers are the growing edge of the church. They are both the present and future of Mennonite Church USA.
Allowing the urban church to shape its own agenda means the center of power and decision-making will begin to shift from rural to urban. This will not always be comfortable or easy, but it is necessary and inevitable.
I am looking forward to the next 14 months. I am curious about commonalities that will be shared across the urban centers. I am looking forward to understanding the unique challenges faced in the various cities, so that we as Mennonite Church USA might support one another in all types of ministry.