Tim asked me to introduce myself before contributing to this blog. So here goes…
I guess I’m young–although my wife has discovered a recent influx of white hairs on my head. And I guess I’m Anabaptist–although my parents had me baptized as an infant. But I don’t think anyone wants to include me among the “radicals” since I’m a pastor. Everyone knows that pastors aren’t radical. They are (we are) just pastors.
My name is Isaac Villegas and I pastor a Mennonite congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As I’ve discovered from wearing name tags at Mennonite conferences, my last name is a giveaway: my family tree isn’t rooted in Europe. My blood flows from south of the border. I’m the child of Catholic immigrants from Latin America who settled in Los Angeles, California. My ecclesial story meanders through various traditions. But my first memory of church is set in a modern cathedral, with lavishly adorned priests walking down the center aisle, incense wafting through the rows, and Christ’s transubstantiated presence beckoning from the altar of eucharistic mysteries.
But my family was pentecostal Catholic at heart, and that kind of hybrid Catholicism didn’t happen in our LA neighborhoods. So we turned to the anarchic pentecostal and storefront charismatic movements. Then evangelicals took hold of me during college. But they left me high and dry when I wrestled with the need for a faithful response to 9/11. The Mennonites saved my faith; they offered a communal witness of peace that took seriously the bible and the miracle-working power of the Holy Spirit.
I moved to North Carolina to help start a house of hospitality called the Rutba House. When we discovered that lots of other folks were doing the same things, we invited everyone we could think of to Durham for a conversation on “a new monasticism.” (If you want more information, we put together a book of essays: Schools for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism.)
While I experimented with what we were calling “neo-monasticism,” I worshiped with the good people at Chapel Hill Mennonite. They taught me how to do church Mennonite-style–granted, a grass roots (i.e., radical?) variety of Mennonite that makes most sense to me. And for some crazy reason they thought it was a good idea to call me as their pastor. Only the Holy Spirit does stuff that crazy.
Welcome to YAR, Isaac. What a succinct, fascinating portrait of your life so far. I especially like the fourth paragraph… the anarchic Pentecostals. Love to hear more on that sometime.
Are you going to be at PAPA fest on Thursday? While I’m asking, anyone else out there in YAR land going to be there? If so, look for the Christian Peacemaker Teams table and say hi.
welcome isaac. your name was mentioned fondly at some mcc meetings the other week. blessings in your work.
Tim, what is PAPA?
Isaac, PAPA festival is a gathering of lots of folks involved in the New Monasticism movement. It’s finishing up today in a field outside of Princeton, IL. I hope to write an article about it this evening.