Denominations have been receiving a bad rap of late. Many traditional denominations are losing younger members, sometimes to new and/or independent churches, or to no church at all. However, I was encouraged after attending our denominational assembly [Mennonite Church Canada] in Winnipeg a few weeks ago. There were a lot of people in attendance who were younger than me and it seemed that their voices were encouraged and heard by people in leadership. The major issue being discerned at the assembly was about same-sex relationships. I was pleased that a variety of people spoke to the issue, including those who were LGBT, and those who felt there was no need for any discernment. An overwhelming majority [263-30] of people voted to affirm the following questions as our guide for further discernment as a national church.

God’s gift of unity in Christ is not invalidated by our disagreement. How shall we maintain our unity in Christ as congregations, Area Church/National Church while understanding matters of same-sex relationships differently?

Most responses indicated a desire to be “more compassionate and welcoming of those individuals who are same-sex attracted”. Describe how your congregation hopes to reflect this desire.

In reviewing the trends, what counsel do you have for the Area/National Church in light of the different understandings of compassionate responses towards persons that are in same sex relationships?

As you can tell by the first question, this is a potentially divisive issue for our denomination, as it is for a number of others. Just because it is potentially divisive does not mean we should avoid the issue or the difficult and elongated process of discernment. Discernment of present issues is part of the work of the church. The Bible is a wonderful resource but it does not directly address many of the issues we face, including this one. Thus, careful discernment is needed. The larger church discerns the larger issues of theology and polity [#1,3] while the congregation deals with the local and practical questions [#2].

The key text for the assembly about Jesus calming the storm [Mark 4:35-41] seemed appropriate for this discernment. Storms of controversy may be battering the church, but we are secure with Jesus in our boat. [Note that he slept through it all! Perhaps he would have slept through a few sessions as well, then rising when the din reached a panic stage to speak words of comfort: “Peace, be still.”] The worship services were inspiring simulations of the story that led us from sea to storm to stillness and confidence in God.