Throughout the nineties, and into the double-aughts, I was outside my Mennonite Brethren roots. I attended a small, non-denominational church called Barnabas Christian Fellowship (BCF). The pastor, Jeff Imbach, became a key mentor for me during this time. My years with Barnabas were both healing and a time of learning, a lot. Prior to my joining BCF Jeff told me that Mennonites tend to focus on guilt. “Here at Barnabas we focus on grace.” I discovered how true that was. I have never seen a church group live out grace as well as Barnabas. Many people gravitated to Barnabas who had been seriously injured by church experiences in the past. This included me. I had gone through a tremendously painful experience in the mid-eighties while pastoring a church. BCF was a place and time of healing from that experience.
People at Barnabas were broken in so many ways. And they were accepted, completely. They participated in leading services, in teaching, in sharing their lives with the church. Barnabas was truly a miraculous group!
When Jeff Imbach resigned from his position we tried valiantly to keep Barnabas going. We managed for a couple years. But so much of the church’s identity was wrapped around Jeff’s deep spirituality and his profound teaching that it didn’t work. BCF just wasn’t the same without Jeff and we finally closed the doors around 2004.
Following the closing of Barnabas I floated along church-less for awhile, but eventually ended up back in the Mennonite Brethren fold. My first MB church experience in the double-aught decade was a small church plant in my city. This closed after three years of not growing. So, in a period of less than five years, I went through two church closings! These are not easy experiences but I learned a lot, in different ways, from each of these times.
The closing of this second church led me to join another Mennonite Brethren Church, this one right down the street in my neighborhood. A larger, city church, it is quite different from any church I have been part of throughout my life. And I am surprised that I enjoy it as much as I do!
While my theology continues to veer off from traditional church orthodoxy I find myself feeling at home in a setting where people know me, where quite a few of us have similar backgrounds, where I am continually reminded of where I have come from, and how far I have come, in my beliefs and in my own spiritual journey. Not everyone at the church accepts some of the directions I am going, including my pastor, but I feel accepted as a person. The music is very good, the preaching is creative and stimulating, the people very friendly and welcoming. I feel at home there.