Marginalized and Centered
It’s hard for me to go to convention. As a pastor of a congregation in exile, I didn’t get an invitation. I had to seek out the registration material and make a conscious decision to impose myself on the gathering. This year, my youth group attended, and because we don’t have official status in the Mennonite church, we were not listed under “Germantown Mennonite Church”, but under “other”. While I found our “other” status amusing, it was a reminder that we have no standing in the denomination, a community we love and continue to claim as our own.
The first few days of the convention were very difficult for me—I found myself lurking around the edges of gatherings, comfortable to lean against walls or sit at the edge of worship. It felt safe, and I needed a little of that in my week. In fact, during one especially difficult adult worship service, I felt that I had to get out–immediately. Being on the margins was useful in that moment.
The times that I felt spiritually and emotionally safe was at Pink Menno hymn sings. Suddenly, it felt like the church I knew; a church that made sense to me. We would gather before worship outside of the lobby, and sing, and all at once we were centered. Those that were ambivalent or curious looked on or sang from the edges of the room.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of margins lately, particularly in light of a quote I read from post-colonial theologian, R. S. Sugirtharajah. He writes, “Currently it has become fashionable to be part of the margins, and now the margins might not be able to hold all those who want to be in it.” The words hold a twinge of sarcasm, and are very true of the experience of many Mennonites at convention this week. I can’t tell you how many people I spoke to this week who felt like they were on the edge of the Mennonite church. Queer folks, people of color, women, white men—all of them felt like they were marginalized and had no power. Part of this is indicative of Mennonites—we all have this tendency to claim we have no power, yet we assert it when needed, and often without realizing it. And part of it is the tension of the old traditions encountering an emerging, post-christendom reality.
I have appreciated that Pink Menno knows its power and claims it. You have claimed it by wearing pink, by singing together, and by creating alternative gathering outside the convention. You have created a safe center for queer people at this convention, and for exiles like myself who aren’t yet welcome into the denomination. Though we can feel like we are on the theological edges of the Mennonite church, Pink Menno is a centering presence for so many people.
Keep doing what you do, Pink Menno. May all of us continue to provide safe places in our communities, congregations, and in the Mennonite church, wherever we find ourselves in relationship to the Mennonite church.
Germantown Mennonite Church