After the sermon at Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston, Kansas, during the transition to a time of prayer, Mindy's friend, a classmate from Taylor University, introduced us to the congregation as a couple visiting a church in every state. A few minutes later, when a microphone was passed for prayer requests, a gentleman stood, took the mic and said, "I can't get my mind off the couple visiting a church in every state. I assume that's by location, but if not..." He did have a point.
We began this project with the goal of writing not just about churches in every state, but also the state of the Church. We've talked to people who are quite concerned about the Church; particularly in the United States. Often they've been concerned with their particular denomination. This last week we talked with a few people who were concerned about the health of the Mennonites as a denomination.
The Mennonites trace their history to the Anabaptist movement in Europe, which followed the Reformation. One of the distinguishing features of that early movement was the belief in believer's baptism; teaching that even adults baptized as infants needed to be baptized again to express their faith (the term "Anabaptist" means "rebaptizer"). This led to persecution from both Catholics and other Protestants. The Mennonite branch of the Anabaptists formed around the writings of Menno Simons, who taught about the importance of living out the example of the life of Jesus (way before the W.W.J.D. bracelet).
The Mennonites stress that the Christian life is not simply a set of intellectually held beliefs but also practiced beliefs. Central to their faith is the importance of service, even to one's enemies. Mennonites are known for their pacifism, refusing to use coercion or violence. Mennonites have long been committed to issues of social justice and economic need. Whitestone Mennonite Church is affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA and the Mennonite World Conference.
I had an opportunity to talk with James, a retired Mennonite church planter, who expressed concerns about the denomination. In the United States, there have been increasing divisions over a variety of issues. James referred to same-sex marriage as a "presenting issue," a hot spot of controversy that represents many areas of conflict. The Mennonite Church has divisions between "Evangelicals" and "Liberals" as well as "Modern" and "Plain" (not as extreme as the Amish, but shunning some modern conveniences).
Those concerns for the Mennonite movement as a whole are understandable, but Mindy and I were impressed with this expression of the faith in Hesston. We came to the community because Marilyn, Mindy's college classmate, lives in the area with her husband, Kevin, who teaches at Hesston College. They made sure we knew about the church's Saturday night service and the nearby Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum.
So on Saturday night, we attended a worship service held in the community room of an apartment complex in Hesston. A dozen people gathered for singing and a Bible study, led by Ron Moyo. He's a graduate of Hesston College and a refugee of political opression in his home country of Zimbabwe. It was a good meeting, but Ron said much of his ministry takes place before the meeting, when he goes door to door in the complex, meeting with residents and offering prayer and council. He said many of those residents don't show up on Saturday night, but come to him when they are in need.
We also attended the early worship service Sunday morning (there's a second morning service, with Sunday School in between). Everyone was encouraged to wear a name tag, by the messages on the screen and spoken announcements. The pastor expressed his pleasure at seeing young and older people at the service, "I know getting up this early is a deal." There was then an announcement for the "Souper Bowl" lunch after the second service, a fundraiser for college students in need at Hesston College. (People could vote with their money for chili or potato soup in the big battle of the bowls.)
There was also an announcement about an upcoming combined Sunday service with the other Mennonite Church in town to hear Shane Claiborne, a Christian activist and leading figure in the New Monasticism movement.
The children in the service were called forward for a children's sermon, in which the woman speaking, Beth, referred to Jesus' assurance that good parents give their children what they need, but one kid was having none of it. So Beth sent the kids out to receive good gifts from the congregation: coins and candy. (Mindy happened to have some foreign money, which she contributed.) Beth pointed out that if people in the congregation were willing to give on the spur of the moment, surely God will answer our requests. (I believe the coins were added to the coin offering later in the service for the "My Coins Count" program of the Mennonite Central Committee.)
The emphasis on prayer continued into the sermon from Jill Weaver, the Visitation Pastor. She first urged people to silently consider a moment of joy in their lives. She later asked us to consider that the act of joyful meditation itself was a prayer if we consider the source of that joy.
She quoted the Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, who said, "God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by the practice of subtraction." She stressed that the most important thing was to desire God. And if we don't desire God, ask God for that desire.
It was clear from the time we spent with folks at Whitestone that they had been given a desire for God and His service. What's happening in THE CHURCH is less of a worry when you see good things God is doing through even one of His churches.
Service Length: 1 hour 6 minutes
Sermon Length: 22 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were greeted by many people as we came in. A sign directed us to the coffee table in the lobby, where we were given nametags and an informational packet about the church (which contained a slip for visitors to fill out and put in the offering plate. We didn't see it in time and turned it in to the office before the second service). There was an attendance sheet that was passed during the offering time, which we also filled out. Our friends introduced us during the service as well, which seemed to be the usual thing for guests.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 68
Probable Ushers' Count: 75
Snacks: coffee and hot water for tea or hot chocolate
Musicians: piano (woman), song leader (woman), flute soloist (woman)
Songs: "God is here among us"
"Breathe on me, breath of God"
"Abide with me" (vss 1,3,5)
"Spirit of God, descend upon my heart"
Miles to church: 1
Miles from start: 5,111
Total 2016 Miles: 3,156
Church website: whitestonemc.com