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Holy Spirit leads teams in creating Lenten, Easter-to-Pentecost worship resources

   

Feb. 11, 2004
Joint release for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada
by Laurie L. Oswald

NEWTON, Kan., and WINNIPEG, Man. (MC USA and MC Canada) -- The Holy Spirit is a key member of the teams that create worship resources for Advent, Lent and Easter-to-Pentecost, said Marlene Kropf, director of Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board Office of Congregational Life.

Kropf – who has guided the teams that prepare these worship materials since 1993 -- said that the teams meet 18 months in advance to prepare resources for an upcoming season. They often receive a strong sense from God’s Spirit for a theme, and it’s a theme that often speaks to people’s needs when the materials are used months later.

She trusts that the 2004 Lenten materials -- “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus” -- will also draw people into God’s presence in timely ways. The materials, developed by a team from eastern Pennsylvania, are available in the Winter 2003/04 Leader magazine. It’s the joint publication of Mennonite Church USA/ Mennonite Church Canada that provides practical resources for pastors and congregations across North America.

“It’s uncanny how much the Spirit of God leads the process,” Kropf said. “For instance, the New York team who wrote Advent 2002 met to do their work a year and a half before the season – long before 9/11. The images that kept coming to the team members were flowing tears of repentance, followed by a stream of God’s restful river that restores and renews us, even though that was one of the lesser themes in the scripture passages we were using.

“I told them I thought that was a heavy theme for Advent, but they kept insisting that those were the images they were hearing and seeing, so we went with that. … Five minutes after 9/11 happened, I remembered that theme, and thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, how fitting for this Advent.’ … That’s when I realized how much the Spirit of God is involved in this process.”

The process has evolved over time, Kropf said. In 1993, Kropf and others, prompted by requests for congregational renewal, prepared Lenten materials. By the mid-90s, they had added Advent resources, which appeared in the former Builder magazine. Brand new in 2004 are the Easter-to-Pentecost materials, spanning seven weeks, which are also in the Spring 2004 issue of Leader.

One may order issues of Leader magazine that contain the Lenten and Easter-to-Pentecost materials by calling Mennonite Publishing Network at 1-800-245-7894. And additional resources for Holy Week services and a Lenten prayer retreat can be found online at www.leaderonline.org.

God awakens team members to ideas through the scriptures they use to prepare materials for the future, said Fred Kauffman, on the team that created the 2004 Lenten materials. And that task is impossible accept for dependence on the Spirit.

“It’s really hard to choose a theme this far in advance, something that will be life-giving for the entire church, especially when we don’t know if the world as we know it will still be here by then,” said Kauffman, pastor of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship.

“How can we know what we all will be facing almost two years from now? We must be open to the movement of God together. We all have a sense that if this will amount to anything, it will have to be God. We have a deep dependence on the Spirit.

“Despite the difficulties, this is a wonderful challenge -- to come to the scriptures and to try to hear what God is saying for the entire church through many different perspectives, many different gifts and many different people.”

The team and Kropf reflected on and prayed about the set of scriptures at their first meeting at Forest Hills Mennonite Church in Leola, Pa, in 2002. They chose the theme and each member received an assignment, including suggestions for worship and sermons, music, children’s messages and visuals.

The assignment of Kauffman, with Katherine Pitts, co-pastor at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster (Pa.), and Leonard Dow, pastor at Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, was to develop the overall focus statements and sermon suggestions.

These team members and six others, all of Pennsylvania, are from three area conferences -- Atlantic Coast, Franconia and Lancaster. The other members are Etta Esch and Evanna Hess of Lancaster, Joy Lapp of New Holland, Glenn Lehman of Leola, Karen Stoner of Lititz and Rick Umble of Atglen.

Each member returned home to work on their assignment and sent it back to Kropf who fine-tuned the entire draft before she sent it to Leader. The Lenten materials include a painting by Rembrandt depicting the prodigal son story; a labyrinth, the ancient use of a pathway leading to a center where one meets God; and on a hymn, “Come Ye Sinners (and Elder Son),” written by Joseph Hart in 1759 with new verses created by Lehman to depict thoughts about the elder son.

“I hope that we will all memorize the refrain of the song, ‘I will arise and go to Jesus; he will embrace me in his arms’ and that it will become the prayer of many congregations for Lent,” Kropf said.

“The message of this year’s theme is that we must go to the cross where Jesus welcomes and embraces us and stays with us in powerful ways on our journey, which also includes a cross. It’s a journey we will all take, but one that leads to the new life we all long for.”

The Sunday worship suggestions include: “Journey Toward Jesus,” Lent One; “Gathered by Jesus,” Lent Two; “Longing for Jesus,” Lent Three; “Coming Home to Jesus,” Lent Four; “Finding Ourselves in Jesus, Lent Five; and “Worshipping Jesus,” Lent Six.

Kropf looks forward to how the Easter-to-Pentecost materials will evolve over a time. That season is not as well known or as well developed by Anabaptists, she said. The emphasis on being the missional church is also a newer focus for the teams.

In the past, the Lenten guide included the Easter Sunday worship resources but now Easter Sunday and the following weeks are in Leader. The Easter season theme, developed by a team from British Columbia and coordinated by Mennonite Church Canada, is “Season of Awakening.”

Canadian team members for the Easter-to-Pentecost resources in British Columbia are Betty Klassen, Laura Sportack and Heidi Yusuf of Peace Mennonite Church in Richmond; and Edith Krause and Jane Grunau of Langley Mennonite Fellowship. Marilyn Houser Hamm of Altona (Man.) Mennonite Church and Lynette Wiebe of Charleswood Mennonite Church Winnipeg also gave inspiration and input.

“The Lenten materials, and even Advent to a certain degree, are native territory, as they tend to focus on reflection and repentance -- what Mennonites have always done,” Kropf said. “The Easter and Pentecost materials have more high energy, joy and drama. And it may be harder to be drawn into this burst of new life, since that tends to be something in our collective psyche that resists moving from the reflection to the joy and action.

“But with our emphasis on being missional and reaching out, I think this season of joy can catapult us into our mission during the season of ‘ordinary time,’ when day after day we are called to walk the arduous journey of witness and mission and peacemaking.” Photo and graphics available

Laurie L. Oswald, news service director for Mennonite Church USA, wrote this story for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. Contact: Laurie L. Oswald (316) 283-5100, E-mail: LaurieO@MennoniteUSA.org