By David Steele, general secretary
In these early days of 2021, I have found myself not only caught up in the unsettling events of recent weeks, but also reflecting on the last several years of life together in the Church of the Brethren. One cannot deny the pain, fear, brokenness, and division inside our church, neighborhoods, and world. The impact of the pandemic is real for many, but the cold and hollowness of division and the “us” versus “them” mentality pervades not only our culture but our church. Republican versus Democrat, progressive versus conservative, liberal versus evangelical, and the list goes on. The fences we have worked so hard to build in our neighborhoods—to protect ourselves from the things we fear or to keep those who do not believe like us on the other side—are now making it difficult for our neighbors to find us and, more significantly, making it difficult for us to reveal Jesus in our neighborhoods at a time when Jesus is needed most.
I grieve the place we have arrived in our life together, the families and congregations that have been torn apart by a vote, and the congregations, friends, and family who have left us. I mourn the loss of our ability to gather at the table to study scripture, pray, and have fellowship together without being suspicious of one another. I lament that we as the body of Christ struggle to celebrate the values, priorities, and hopes that we hold in common. And most of all, I regret that, for some, our faith in Christ and our commitment to follow him no longer seem to be enough.
During Advent, I was drawn to the words of the 2017 Casting Crown’s song Make Room. The song tells of the Savior’s birth into a fearful, lost, and hurting world, and offers the invitation to make room in our hearts for God’s story to be written in us and among us. This became my prayer for Advent and Christmas, and remains with me in this new year.
In this season of struggle and challenge, how are you making room in your heart for God’s unfolding story? Are you opening yourself to opportunities to participate in God’s redemptive work? I am excited about the renewed possibilities of God’s story within the Church of the Brethren as we prepare for our conversation and affirmation of the compelling vision at Annual Conference, together with the Mission and Ministry Board’s new strategic plan that is oriented around “Jesus in the Neighborhood.” These movements are worth celebrating. However, before authentically finding this posture, we must make room in our hearts for a new chapter of God’s story by first acknowledging and praying for God’s blessings on those who feel called to ministry outside our fold, and second, by spending time in self reflection, repenting for:
- failing to build up the body and contributing to division,
- casting judgments on others and believing that we are right,
- putting personal needs and preferences before the needs of others,
- wielding power and influence against others,
- using social media to tear down brothers and sisters in Christ,
- believing that enforcing polity and policy will fix division and brokenness,
- withholding prayerful (or other) support from the family of faith,
- harboring a lack of grace and forgiveness,
- diminishing the personhood of others and not loving our neighbor as ourselves, and
- (add your own).
For us to make room in our hearts, we need to let go of what stands in the way of allowing God to write God’s story. In our broken and hurting world, country, and church, may we make a commitment to one another to make room in our hearts so that we can, with a renewed sense of call and purpose, be united in our efforts to live for Jesus in our neighborhoods.