Listening committee

Listening Committee Report, Bridgefolk 2007

July 26-29, 2007

AMBS, Elkhart, IN

What we heard:

Some people “out there” are concerned that associating with people of different denominations might “corrupt” us.  Is corruption always bad?

Mennonite -Catholic relationships can be conversation stoppers, or starters.

We heard many greetings between friends, and noticed some new persons, who sometimes seemed left out of conversations.

There is great appreciation for music, and James [Gingerich] seems to get even Mennonites close to dancing.

We felt a more laid-back spirit at this gathering, without some of the anguish of previous times.  There seemed to be much more of an emphasis on the “we” rather than “this vs. that”.  There was more a sense of the starting place being our commonality, rather than our differences.

Likewise, we felt a move from a more academic focus, with papers, responses, etc. to a more storytelling mode.  Even some of the major presentations were more personal story than lecture.  People were careful to note that they were speaking from their personal experience, rather than speaking for the group they represent.  There was affirmation for this.

We heard that the 2006 Eucharistic celebration was inspired, powerful, thought-provoking, and unique.  We heard cautions about making it normative.

We heard the challenge of living with paradoxes, not trying to resolve the dissonance, but rather learning and living within them.  Some of those we heard included:

Us vs. them
Welcome vs. discipline
Exceptions vs. The Rule
Holiness vs. purity
Understanding vs. unpacking

Both groups have, in their histories, times when they were the minority and felt the weight of that.  Both groups also struggle with issues of power and authority, who has it, and what do we do with it when we have it.

As Bridgefolk continues from year to year, how do we include newcomers among us?  Where do they learn the stories?  How do they become part of the shared history?  What are the assumptions made that either include or don’t include them?  Who do we expect to come to Bridgefolk gatherings?

This issue was evident in the late night group that became a sort of sub-Bridgefolk, carrying on the conversation growing out of last year’s experience.

We noted that there were no “questions out of the hat”.  This was missed by some, and seemed like a good way for newcomers to ask some questions that are assumed by others.

We also heard a call for more times of silence, including contemplative prayer, lectio divina, and time for personal reflection.

We noticed that men predominate at the microphones.  More options for small group discussion would allow more people’s voices to be heard.  The personal story telling time after the baptismal stories, and the Sat. afternoon discussion time was welcome.

Location does make a difference.  There seemed to be less a sense here of Bridgefolk being a group of people that meets together, but rather a group of meetings that people could come to.  We note that being in this setting meant that many local people went home for overnight, or came and went from sessions depending on their interest or other schedules.  This happens much less as St. John’s – (where would you go?).  While we heard appreciation for meeting in this setting, we also heard feeling of loss for the opportunities for quiet relaxation, casual gatherings in the evenings, and group cohesion.  We noticed that many conversations here were in twosomes, rather than in groups.

We heard questions raised about the film “The Radicals”.  What was the purpose in showing this somewhat outdated film, particularly without a chance for discussion or much in the way of introduction?  There was some unease surrounding it.

How do we learn from each other’s traditions?  There seemed to be an assumption that everyone could read music.  Is that a factor of location, or something else?  We want to learn each others traditions, but feel some tension in doing so.

We learned again that God moves in mysterious ways, and Bridgefolk is just one of those ways.  Bridgefolk cannot change the whole church, but it is a small step in God’s movement toward the unity of all things, which we can celebrate together.

Reflections by Brenda on “Denouement”

It’s usually in the last pages of a novel, this concept of denouement.  In the first chapters the setting, the characters and the theme have been introduced.  As the story progresses a conflict becomes apparent.  Soon, it’s difficult to put the book down because you’re sure that on the next page the conflict will be resolved in a climactic moment. Then, finally, denouement:  in the last chapters the tension dissipates, loose ends are addressed and a hint of the sequel, if there is to be one, is introduced.

And so we’ve come to St. John’s Abbey, Eastern Mennonite University and the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. We’ve met delegates of Mennonite-Catholic dialogue sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and the Mennonite World Conference.  We’ve met people from many walks of life who live on or around this “Bridge” that spans between traditions often ignorant of one another, sometimes at enmity with one another.  We’ve shared stories and gems from our traditions:  congregational singing, liturgical prayer, lives of peacemaking, longings for the transcendent.  We’ve celebrated our communion that is founded in our baptism.

And we’ve ached, gut-wrenching, debilitating aches.  Why?  Because we hear an invitation from God, and we need to be true our consciences, and we want honor our experience of church.  We’re hungry.  Who can feed us?  We see a table set for all.  But is it?  We need food for the journey.  Can we share what we have?  For so long there is no answer.  Or the answer given does not satisfy.  Yet, in a moment of grace and delight, the gift of a common Eucharistic celebration is received.  The questions are not answered.  However, our community glimpses (again) the vision of unity.

We rest in one another’s presence in the presence of God.  Denouement.  Bridgefolk 2007.

Now the conversations continue with a new vitality – with old companions and new friends. We look forward to what will be next, who we will become.  What will be written in the next book.

From the Sunday morning “Open Mic” time:

Having an opportunity to attend either Mennonite or Catholic worship services would have been welcomed

It was noted that the initial planning for Bridgefolk had been for a 5-year progression.  This year culminates that plan.  What does this mean for the next 5 years?

There is a growing interest in a new “rite” that would include many aspects from past discussions.  What would it look like? Who would initiate dialogue on this?

It was noted that the presence of younger people “20-somethings”, was a good development.

The Listening Committee:

Brenda Bellamy
Ed Kauffman
Corinne Kehrberg