Create In Me a Clean Heart, VT # 141; refrain and v. 1
One: Here we are God. Tending Transformation in our souls and in our world.
Two: We confess that change does not come easily for us, nor is transformation our daily prayer.
Three: When we gather for worship, we prefer harmonies that lift our spirits,
Four: words that affirm our faithfulness,
Five: confessions in which we imagine others’ sins and not our own.
One: We are not used to being called to repentance,
Four: scolded for our narrow hospitality,
Three: invited to imagine an even greater beloved community.
Five: We wish to forget the sins of our past, sins of our forebears and our own,
Two: sins that excluded and drew heavy lines between the welcomed and the shunned,
Four: sins of slavery and sweatshops,
Five: sins of forced removal of those who walked this land for generations before us,
Three: sins of racism and patriarchy, environmental destruction and overconsumption.
Six: The Psalmist cries out:
“Dear God, don’t blame us for the sins of our parents.
Hurry up and help us; we’re at the end of our rope.
You’re famous for helping; God, give us a break.
Your reputation is on the line.
Pull us out of this mess, forgive us our sins—
do what you’re famous for doing!” (Psalm 79)
Create In Me a Clean Heart, VT # 141; refrain and v. 2
One: As the Central District Conference, we have not yet fulfilled our mission. We confess:
Three: We have not fully understood Christ’s abundant love and we have sometimes refused to answer God’s persistent call to share God’s love with one another and the world.
Two: We have hoarded your Good News and preached only to the choir.
Five: We have made decisions that privilege the majority and diminish the gifts and calling of those who have been marginalized.
One: We confess: We have failed to build healthy and mutual relationships with one another across races and ethnicities.
Four: We have narrowly defined who can be in committed and loving relationships and we investigated pastors who performed marriages in good conscience and with the blessing of their congregation.
One: We confess: We have refused to recognize the spiritual gifts of those who don’t fit our vision of God’s image-bearers.
Two: We are diminished in vitality and faithfulness by the loss of our LGBTQIA siblings who have chosen to leave because of exclusionary practices.
One: We confess: We have not affirmed the full status and worth of queer siblings as fully beloved by God.
Four: We have driven wedges between marginalized groups, failing to creatively find welcome for all.
Five: We have preached a shallow unity that left others further marginalized and alone.
One: Today we place empty chairs among us, representing those whose gifts have not been welcomed,
Two: and chairs shrouded in obscurity, representing others who chose to remain hidden.
Three: those who have been rejected and discouraged,
Four: those who could not trust or feel safe to be truly themselves in the church.
Five: leaders whose lives and careers have been disadvantaged in material and economic ways due to discriminatory polices around credentialing, ordination, and professional ministry in CDC.
Two: During the silent reflection which will follow our song, you are invited to light a candle and place it on one of the tables near an empty chair, symbolizing someone you know whose gifts have not been welcomed by the church or someone who has not been able to be fully themselves in the church.
Create In Me a Clean Heart, VT # 141; refrain and v.3
Silent Reflection and lighting of candles
One: We believe and confess you are a God of forgiveness and reconciliation,
Five: a God of hope and new possibilities.
Six: The Psalmist pleads,
“Oh! Teach us to live well!
Teach us to live wisely and well!
Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?—
and treat your servants with kindness for a change.
Surprise us with love at daybreak;
then we’ll skip and dance all the day long.
Make up for the bad times with some good times;
we’ve seen enough evil to last a lifetime.” (Psalm 90)
One: Tending transformation begins by pulling away the curtains of denial,
Four: recognizing the image of God in the stranger and the other,
Two: confessing the brokenness we have caused and must own.
One: Tending transformation calls us to pay attention,
Three: to know ourselves and our motives more fully,
Five: to open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit,
Four: to let go of our desire for control so that God’s transformation seeps into us like gentle rain softening the soil.
One: Tending transformation invites us to love ourselves more fully,
Three: to nurture the image of God within us,
Five: to receive Christ’s life-giving bread and wine, nourishing our bodies, as vines rooted in the soil of God’s love,
Two: to bear fruit worthy of repentance, fruit that nourishes a hungry world.
Six: The Psalmist asks,
“Why not help us make a fresh start—a resurrection life?
Then your people will laugh and sing!
Show us how much you love us, God!
Give us the salvation we need!
I can’t wait to hear what God says.
God’s about to pronounce God’s people well,
Love and Truth meet in the street,
Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss!
Truth sprouts green from the ground,
Right Living pours down from the skies!
Oh yes! God gives Goodness and Beauty;
our land responds with Bounty and Blessing.” (Psalm 84)
Create In Me a Clean Heart, VT # 141; refrain and v. 4
One: Central District Conference is Tending Transformation.
Two: We are taking steps toward repentance,
Four: and journeying toward transformation.
One: The CDC Ministerial Committee is seeking to live into the Repentance and Transformation resolution affirmed at the Special Delegate Session of Mennonite Church USA in May of 2022.
Five: We have been on this journey for a while, sometimes clumsily, sometimes boldly.
Two: In 2015 we affirmed a Theological Understanding for Credentialing which provided the foundation for treating all credential requests the same way, regardless of sexual orientation.
Three: In 2018 we ceased conducting credential reviews of pastors who officiated same-sex marriage ceremonies with the support of their congregations. More recently Conference Minister, Doug Luginbill, met with some of these pastors to hear about their experience.
Four: In 2022 we partnered with Camp Friedenswald, the Missional Church Committee and the CDC Board of Directors to provide financial support for Mennonite leaders of the LGBTQIA community to participate in a visioning retreat at Camp Friedenswald.
One: In 2022 we extended an open invitation to be heard, inviting members and allies of the LGBTQIA community to share stories of how they have experienced life in the Mennonite Church. Two individuals have responded so far.
Three: We confess that our journey toward repentance and transformation is not complete.
Two: We are sorry for the way our policies, our boundaries, our conformity, and our silence has marginalized and shunned followers of Christ.
Five: We lament that there are empty chairs among us today.
ALL: We will continue Tending Transformation.
Six: The Apostle Paul assures us,
“But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the love of Christ. For Christ is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of hostility that kept us apart….Christ came and ‘announced the Good News of peace to you who were far away, and to those who were near’; for through Christ, we all have access in one Spirit to our God. This means that you are strangers and aliens no longer. No, you are included in God’s holy people and are members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2)
One: In 1971, Keith Schrag was ordained as a minister of the Gospel in Wichita, KS.
Three: In 1977 Ames Mennonite Church was born and Keith Schrag was called as their pastor.
Four: In 1987 Keith was called before the CDC Ministerial Committee which was meeting at Camp Friedenswald. He was called to account for his lifestyle. As a gay man, his leadership was in question. Keith relinquished his credential and was asked to step down from serving on the Peace, Service and Justice Committee.
Two: In July of last year, Ames Mennonite participated in a Sacred Listening process. Some participants shared about the challenges of being a welcoming congregation in the Mennonite Church and the pain they experienced from the conferences to which they were connected.
One: Jane Roeschley and Rachel Stolpe, the CDC volunteers leading the Sacred Listening process, were also told that a statement of apology, sent by Conference Minister Lois Kauffman and the ministerial committee in 2015, was so meaningful. Keith teared up recalling Janeen Bertsche Johnson’s warmest welcome when Keith was at Central District Conference annual meeting in 2015.
Five: Keith remained an active member of Ames Mennonite until January of this year when the congregation closed and Keith retired to Goshen.
Three: Between August of last year and January of this year, Doug Luginbill received three inquiries wondering if Keith’s credential could be reinstated. Keith had not requested this.
One: In April of this year, the Ministerial Committee met at Camp Friedenswald. Keith responded to our invitation to be heard and shared his story with us. Keith wondered if there might be the possibility of reinstating his credential.
Four: After Keith left the meeting, the Ministerial Committee discerned that reinstating Keith’s credential as a retired minister of Central District and Mennonite Church USA honored the spirit of Repentance and Transformation.
One: In conversations with former conference minister, Mark Weidner, and MC USA Minister of Ministerial Leadership, Rachel Ringenberg Miller, both agreed that reinstating Keith’s credential was appropriate.
ALL: Keith, please join us.
Doug: Keith Schrag, on behalf of the Central District Conference, I apologize for the pain, marginalization, and separation, that you experienced from the conference. We recognize your prophetic and pastoral gifts, walking with and ministering to many who were marginalized. You were a pastor to many throughout your nearly sixty years of ministry in Kansas, Iowa, and other communities. Today we recognize you as a credentialed leader in Central District Conference and Mennonite Church USA. Keith, continue to preach the word, share your gifts, and bear witness in word and deed to the gospel.
Questions for Table Discussion:
- What are some of the feelings you experienced during this worship time?
- When you imagine repentance, do you think mostly in personal terms? What does it mean for institutions, like the church or government, to repent? What might this look like?
- How could you imagine your congregation seeking to live into the Repentance and Transformation Resolution?
- In her book, On Repentance and Repair, author Danya Ruttenberg states, “For the rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud (commentaries on the Hebrew scriptures), and for our guide Maimonides (a twelfth-century philosopher and scholar of Jewish law), forgiveness is much less important than the repair work that the person who caused harm is obligated to do. The Hebrew word that is often translated as ‘repentance’ is tshuvah, which literally means ‘returning.’” What are your thoughts about this understanding of forgiveness? To what are we to “return?”