Good and Holy

Ybo City Mennonite, Tampa

Ybor City Mennonite Church, Tampa

A “good and holy” person wrote to Irvin Stutzman, an executive of Mennonite Church USA and a “good and holy” man.  He urged Stutzman  to quickly rebuke the 150 “good and holy” leaders who wrote him a letter on behalf of the “good and holy” LGBT believers who seek to be members of the Mennonite Church USA.

Reread the previous paragraph and substitute “bad and evil” for “good and holy.”  “Bad and evil” are words of judgment.  “Good and holy” are words of  grace. )

During my active ministry, I was associated mostly with mission style churches with  few members. Though each church had a small membership of people who may be described as good and holy, the Sunday morning attendance was usually several times the size of the membership.

One small church with legalistic “good and holy” membership standards blessed its community through a  popular vacation bible school and a series of revival meetings held every six months.  Significant numbers from the community were brought to faith in Jesus by these activities.  Throughout many years of witness only three of these converts decided to become “good and holy” enough to join the Mennonite church. Instead most converts in this small church returned to a church  with practices consistent with their family traditions. The Mennonite church fed non-Mennonite churches of the community.

Ida St Church

Ida Street Mennonite Church, Tampa, first Mennonite church built by Mennonites in Florida

I know this because I visited this church several times a year, and held a series of revival meetings there. During that week I visited many homes in the community. In every home I was assured that  “Mennonites are good people.” It was often said of the pastor that he was a good man. Too good, I say now, and too holy.  I recall a young woman who attended my own congregation in Tampa and left it to join the Baptist church.  Years later when an adult she explained that she loved and admired the Mennonites, but knew also she could not be “that good.”

Bahia Vista Church

Bahia Vista Mennonite Church, Sarasota, Florida

After my bishop assignment ended Rhoda and I related to what was then the largest church of the Southeast Mennonite Conference. The pastor was dynamic and the church grew rapidly because of the influx of Mennonites from the North. We enjoyed that church but it could not attract attendance from the non-Mennonite community.  It’s fellowship was warm on the inside, but to me the solid white wall facing the street looked more like a prison than a church.  It’s by-laws allowed a super-minority of good and holy members to deny significant progress proposed by its leadership.  Rhoda served the church for years as a fulltime administrative secretary and several terms as an elder, and I was a Sunday School teacher.

College Mennonite Church, Goshen, IN

College Mennonite Church, Goshen, IN

As we aged, Rhoda and I moved to Goshen to be close to our daughter. At first we visited churches around us. When Rhoda was in the hospital she was asked about our church. She surprised me by saying, we belong to College Mennonite. Later, she added, “I like Phil,” the pastor.  For a short time we went together to this church that shared a campus with a college. Now I go alone.

Sunday morning, February 24, seems important, in retrospect. We began to say farewell to a member of the pastoral team who had served the CMC in that role for 30 years. The pastor’s demeanor seemed different. You can listen here to the entire service.  In another post I hope to say more about the sermon.

About Martin Lehman

I was born 92 years ago, the son of a Mennonite pastor and organic gardener in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. At age 10 I was baptized as a member of the Marion Mennonite Church. I own the "Old Fool" moniker because I want to walk the Jesus Way even though the world and much of the church takes me as a fool for doing so. In my life I have moved from being a young conservative to an elderly radical. I tell that story in My Faith Journey posted on my website.
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