Sunday Message Prepared by Lynn Walters
What I have learned at Fairfield Mennonite Church
August 28, 2016
I made a list of over 21 things I have learned while at Fairfield Mennonite Church or FMC for short. They fell into two categories: Ideas about being a “Church” and what I learned from the adult discussion group. I may only need ten minutes to tell you what I have learned, but what I have learned will last the rest of my life.
I have to confess that I enjoyed telling friends and people in general, that I attended a Mennonite Church. I had been a member of a Methodist Church, a Presbyterian Church, and attended a Lutheran and Baptist church in my past. I had family members who were Mennonite, but I had never spent much time with them.
Peoples reaction was often one of a questioning look on their face. I could tell that they immediately wanted to know if people wore head coverings and dressed like the Amish. I was only too willing to tell them about our church and why I attended this particular Mennonite Church. I tell them it is a group of people who care for each other and their community. FMC is a group who is trying to put their faith into action. Doing is as important, if not more important, than believing. They are a group who challenged me to live what I said I believed. Who would not want to be part of such a group?
At FMC I grew in the awareness that “caring for the environment” was a responsibility of all Christians. We have a responsibility to care for what happens to all people and this means that we have a responsibility to make sure the world is a place that can sustain all God's children. Fred and Dan and others demonstrated this in a way I could understand. I have to confess that I still am not into raising my own vegetables or composting, but I know that I need to do more to take care of the earth God has given us. Who would not want to be part of such a group?
FMC has demonstrated what a “little” church can do. It is FMC that provides the place for the Fairfield Area Food Pantry, the staff to run it and the building in which to serve those in need. The “building” is to be used to serve anyone or any group that has a need. We do not charge for use of the building. There is not an attitude that the church must “make money” off its service. FMC was not out to “protect” itself, but to serve. Who would not want to be a part of such a group?
Everyone has a part to play in this church, everyone contributes what they can, and I am not talking about money. I have never been a part of a church where you will find members (even past and present pastors) running the vacuum cleaner and cleaning the kitchen. The emptying of the trash every week by Rodney is a testament to the way all members are important and appreciated. I wanted to be a part of such a group.
People expect this church to help those who have a need. I learned what it means to accept people where they are and not judge them. When FMC opens its building to house someone who does not have a place to live, they are acting like the Good Samaritan who saw that the injured man was cared for. I learned from seeing actions instead of believing words. I knew from personal experience, their love and their acceptance shown to my niece Michelle and her family. I know it was not always easy but they helped in a way I think few churches would. Who would not want to be part of such a group?
Here I have seen what it means to be a “Church family”.
When someone has a need you do not say “I will pray for you” but I will take you to the doctor, pick you up for church, bring you dinner, cry and celebrate life's challenges with you. Who would not want to be part of such a group?
Here I saw what it meant to be a “peace church”. I had often referred to myself as a pacifist but was never able to explain or defend my position. I just knew that the use of violence in any form, was not what Christ wanted for his followers. It was here that I saw people taking a stand, willing to take a public position against war and violence. They responded in love when someone took advantage of their help but still held people responsible for their actions. Who would not want to be part of such a group?
I have learned what real congregational singing sounds like. I don't think I could save my own life, if it meant I had to sing in tune. I am always telling people about the beautiful voices in this congregation. Many large churches would love to have people that sang like this little group. I have learned what an important part music can play in worship. Norm's concerts and the civic chorus demonstrate FMC willingness to be part of the community and not isolated Christians only relating to other Christians who believe as they do. Who would not want to be part of such a group?
Here I found a group of people who were willing to consider a position that the general public often rejected without consideration - their acceptance and love of Haya, a young lady from Gaza. Their willingness to look at the Palestinian situation with an open mind yet have room for those who have a different understanding of the Palestinian situation. Who would not want to be part of such a group?
My first contact with FMC was coming with Michelle one Sunday morning. There was a group seated around a table drinking coffee and talking. I now know this might have been the Adult Sunday School Class. I sat down and joined the discussion. I was so impressed, that here was a group of people who thought as I did and were trying to follow the teachings of Jesus. I came from a church of good people but who held different ideas as to what it meant to be a believer in a modern world. The FMC group was thoughtful, challenging and accepting. Who would not want to be part of such a group?
I learned so much from this group of people. My list is in no special order. I learned that everyone has something to teach me. This meant accepting people with different ideas and beliefs or no beliefs. I could not reject someone just because they did not use the same Christian phraseology that I was used to. I began asking myself “what did they “mean”? Was it the same as I believed, just using different words to express the same idea or were they new ideas that I needed to consider?
An example of this is the use of the word “myth”. Every time Joyce would use the word, I would cringe . All I could think of was Greek and Roman myths and I did not think they were “real”. How could she call the stories in the Bible myths? In time I came to understand that a myth is a story that has something to teach us. Whether it had actually happened was secondary to what we could learn from the story. Joyce can now use the word myth, and I just listen to learn, not judge.
When we are studying a passage of the Bible, we use as many different translations as we have. We even used a dictionary to aid our understanding. I used to love doing a word study - looking how one word was used in different places in scripture. But using different translations shows that a word-to-word study does not add to understanding but can be very misleading. Seeking to understand the meaning or teaching of a passage is what gives insight and guidance.
It has also become clear to me that we should not insist on one meaning of a passage or that everyone has to believe the same thing about the passage.
Allowing people to believe something different from me has allowed me to hold on to my beliefs and still learn from others. In fact, they have often proven to be right and I have changed what I believe. It has been these differences which have caused me to rethink and learn to restate what I had been taught. I know that I often hold different beliefs but that is okay for me and is okay for others. Who would not want to be part of such a group?
The Christian faith has been a major part of my life since I was very young. I still believe that the Bible is a special book and one that has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. I still find that God uses it to speak to me and guide me. I believe that we all have a need of God's forgiveness. I can't tell you what is always meant by “sin” but we all know that we are not all we could be, and that none of us are perfect. I still believe that Jesus Christ was sent by God to show us how we should live our lives here on earth. He makes it possible for me to believe Him when He said he is preparing a place for me to be where He is. Because I believe this I am not afraid of death or what my future here on earth is. He has guided me so far and I expect He will see me though the future, whatever that will be here in Fairfield or in Minnesota. Having Jesus Christ as a part of my life has made life worth living and the future bright.
Because people in this church are willing to freely share, I am free to hold and share my beliefs and continue to learn what they have to teach me. They are willing to share when they know that others might hold a different view. They give acceptance to everyone in spite of their difference. No one demands we all agree or even sometimes understand what is being said. Who would not want to be a part of such a group?
Now I would like to ask if anyone one would like to share what they have learned at FMC. Each of us is different and our response, too, will be different but that is why I want to be part of such group.