I took away a few beautiful things from Reba Place Church and Fellowship’s fiftieth anniversary celebration. I’ll focus on the Saturday, August 4th, full-day celebration. First I was struck by the truly charismatic nature of the fellowship. Influenced in the late sixties by Graham Pulkingham and the Church of the Redeemer, Reba has continued to the present day with a very charismatic approach to worship and fellowship. If I understand it right, that’s unique among Mennonite churches. Reba continues to worship God with worship dance, flags, tambourines with streamers, and folk music fused with black gospel. It took a little time at first to settle in with it, but after awhile I really grew to appreciate their particular expression.
The day’s activities involved decade by decade presentations, with readings from members present at the time, letters from those who couldn’t be present, an outline of the changes each year brought, songs, slideshows, a few wedding dances written for couples, and sometimes prayers of repentance. I think these presentations were forty-five minutes each with a half hour break between each, and then lunch together under a big tent in the park down the street in the afternoon. My friends and I were pretty tuckered after dinner and so opted to head home instead of staying for the concert.
We visited the community’s archive building after lunch in the afternoon. I tried to journey through each room but there was just so much to take in! Quilts, photos, newspaper clippings, rooms full of art and books. I could’ve spent hours there, but I felt like I couldn’t really appreciate it all without some kind of guided tour throught he material. Reba is a family with an expansive history, and without being a member it’s hard to really share that history. Even so, we marvelled at God’s unique work in them over the years.
Our conversations in the car to and from JPUSA involved some sociological discussions on Reba’s differences, and discussion on what we at JPUSA might look like in the next fifteen years. Reba’s changes were sometimes quite tumultuous. This celebration was a testimony of God’s faithfulness throughout—and to see so many former members coming back to testify who’d left for so many reasons was a wonderous thing.
We didn’t know about all the wonderful outreaches Reba’s been involved in over the years like the Sonshine Group that led eventually to L’Arche coming to Chicago, the Free trade store Thousand Villages of Evanston, and their help in starting Evanston’s homeless shelter. They seemed to know full well that a community can’t exist just for itself, it must reach out and serve in order to continue. Balancing that nurture for members within while reaching out and staying service focused is never easy.
Reba Place Fellowship has a story of what God will do when particular families will share fully of themselves with whoever God places in their way on the journey. We all have different stories of this grand adventure. The seeds of God’s Kingdom have a universal impact known only to the Sower himself. Still it’s fun to get just a glimpse of it in celebrations like this.