Mennonite Church USA

Sparking Renewal and Becoming Undone: What I’ve been up to recently

For the last few months I haven’t been as active on Young Anabaptist Radicals as usual. Aside from my normal work doing web design and work for Christian Peacemaker Teams, I took a class on Anabaptist History and Theology. I’ve also been part of organizing a gathering in conjunction with the US Social Forum in Detroit. It’s called Becoming Undone: a gathering of Christians drawn to Anabaptism and the continuing work of Undoing Opressions. Follow the link for more details. There’s still room if you register now!

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I’ve also been very involved in a movement called Spark Renewal.

For many years, I’ve been fascinated (and disturbed) by the way that institutions tend to drift away from their original mission and towards self-preservation. I started writing about it in back in 2004, but the decision by Goshen College to start playing the anthem got me thinking about it a lot more. Around the same time friends started sharing their concerns and frustrations with the “Joining Together” campaign to build a new Mennonite Church office building on the campus of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries. (more…)

Mennonite denominationalism and the Concern pamphlets

I’ve been a Mennonite for nearly 8 years. I’ve felt welcomed in local congregations and regional assemblies and national conventions. I have enjoyed everything about our denomination–even the quirkiness. But I also can’t help but notice that there are lots of faithful people who have been Mennonite for a lot longer than I have been who are asking tough questions about denominational structures (both physical structures like a new office building, and institutional structures like the merger of various board agencies).

After reading Wipf & Stock’s wonderful collection of republished Concern pamphlets, I can’t help but notice similarities between Mennonite discourse in the 1950s and today. Here’s a passage from the introduction of the 1954 Concern pamphlet:

Are American Mennonites, in spite of their great institutional and even spiritual progress, perhaps after all moving rather toward ‘respectable’ denominationalism rather than toward a dynamic and prophetic ‘grass roots’ movement? And if so, what responsibility devolves upon us in our generation? (Concern, vol. 1, p. 3)

What do you think? Is this the same sort of question that needs to be asked?

I also beginning to wonder if this is a perennial Mennonite concern. Paul Peachey and his friends asked it back then, and plenty of others are asking it again today.

While the Concern group of the 1950s offered important criticisms of their denomination, I am also struck by one of quotes at the beginning of their first pamphlet–an epigraph that offers a kind of framework for their essays:

…send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may rebuild it. (Neh 2:5)

Bureaucracy, professionalism and dissent in Mennonite Church USA institutions

Jumping over the Sunset

This is the second article in a series on Mennonite Church USA and its institutions. Part 1 is here and part 3 is here.

In the first article of this series, I critiqued “professionalism” in Mennonite institutions without defining it clearly. In the comments responding to the article, a number of people rightly pointed out that professionalism plays a very important role in allowing us to work in consistent, safe and effective ways. As Alan Stucky said in his comment:

Make no mistake that our seriousness and professionalism had a hand in helping to get MVS be the first recognized Christian alternative service organization in 25 years. Professionalism is not inherently evil, or antithetical to the Gospel. Yes, it should be kept in check by the Gospel, but they are not opposites.

Roses shared in their comment about their experience of seeing God move through values of professionalism. Paco, on the other hand, over at Young Anabaptist Radicals speculated on how well Jesus would have done at project proposals and budgets.

I’d like to take the opportunity to define my concern with professionalism more specifically: I am concerned by the way it views internal dissent. During my meeting with Mennonite Mission Network staff that I referred to in the first article, two staff involved with the capital campaign defined professionalism as prohibiting them from publicly dissenting from their institutions public position. As they saw it, their only public option for public dissent was to resign from their organization.

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Bureaucracy and Buildings in the Mennonite Church

Exhibition of Jean-Michel Folon. Photo by by Marco Bellucci CC BY 2.0

crossposted from As of Yet Untittled

A few weeks ago I sat down with a group of Mennonite Mission Network staff who have been managing the $10 million capital campaign for the new Mennonite Church USA building on the campus of Associated Mennonite Biblical seminaries in Elkhart, Ind. The staff members were meeting with a number of people inside and outside of the institution who have had significant concerns and questions about the direction this project is taking the church.

In listening to the the responses from Mission Network staff to theological and missiological questions raised by the dissenters, I was struck by how much they focused on institutional values such as finances, efficiency and professionalism. The conversation made real for me the way the institutions of the Mennonite church are centered on values of professionalism and institutional interests in their decision making process. I heard them asking: What would a professional do? before asking, “What would Jesus do?”

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Anabaptist Rosary

As a note: This is also posted at The Wandering Road

So I’ve recently run across the Catholic Rosary.  While I’m drawn to it’s structure and it’s ability to help people pray, as a good Anabaptist, I take issue with some of it’s theology.  So here is my initial thoughts and proposal for an Anabaptist Rosary.

First- An orientation to the actual Rosary.

How to pray the Rosary
1. Make the Sign of the Cross and say the “Apostles Creed.”
2. Say the “Our Father.”
3. Say three “Hail Marys.”
4. Say the “Glory be to the Father.”
5. Announce the First Mystery; then say
the “Our Father.”
6. Say ten “Hail Marys,” while meditating on the Mystery.
7. Say the “Glory be to the Father.”
8. Announce the Second Mystery: then say the “Our Father.” Repeat 6 and 7 and continue with the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Mysteries in the same manner.
9. Say the ‘Hail, Holy Queen’ on the medal after the five decades are completed.
As a general rule, depending on the season, the Joyful Mysteries are said on Monday and Saturday; the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday and Friday; the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday and Sunday; and the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday. (more…)

Invitation from Mennonite Publishing Network to help revision resources for 20 and 30-somethings

This is a invitation to the YAR community from Byron Rempel-Burkholder, and editor at Faith and Life Resources/Mennonite Publishing Network. Feel free to contact Byron directly or leave your response in a comment.

We at Mennonite Publishing Network need your help in creating resources that nurture spirituality among 20- and 30-somethings. Our traditional existing medium is Rejoice! magazine, which offers daily meditations on Bible texts, along with denominational prayer requests. Rejoice! is relatively successful among middle and older adults, but it is attracting only a small segment of younger adults to its readership. (more…)

Levi Miller, peace and justice and the Mennonite chattering class

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Dried Love in the Mist seedpods

For the last few weeks, I’ve been wrestling with how to respond to Levi Miller’s column on "peacenjustice". My first reaction was one of anger and frustration. No wonder the Mennonite church has had such a hard time integrating peace and justice into our whole denomination! The director of our publishing house mocks it as a buzzword and sees it as a product of "cultural chatterers." Miller seems to see shalom (the bible’s word for peace and justice) as a little more then a worn out fad. It was much loved by the Sandinistas and Sojourners in the ’70s, but it is time to grow up and move on.

Over the weeks, I wrote several paragraphs expounding on my outrage at an old white guy maligning a theology of liberation that challenges the unjust status quo. (more…)

What Does It Mean To Be Anabaptist?

I’ve got some new friends who had never heard of anabaptism. So I wrote a summary of what I understand Anabaptism to be. Look it over. What would you add or subtract? What would you nuance differently?

And if you aren’t anabaptist, what questions would you have?

The Anabaptist tradition
In 1525 the reformation of the church in the West was just beginning. There was a lot of excitement about Luther’s reforms, not least of all in Zurich, Switzerland. Zwingli was leading the city leaders into a reform there based on Scripture alone, but many of the reformation’s supporters there didn’t think that Zwingli was going far enough. They noticed that when he spoke about certain issues, that he was more interested in his theological point, rather than actually brining the church back into obedience to Jesus. So they baptized themselves in the name of Jesus, making each other citizens of Jesus’ kingdom instead of any kingdom on earth. This movement grew, and they were called ana-baptists by their enemies, because it was claimed that they would re-baptize their members. But in reality, the Anabaptists affirmed that they were spreading the one true baptism—an entrance into God’s kingdom through true understanding and not just assent to the society of the church. This movement has continued to this day.

What Anabaptists Believe:
1. Jesus only
“No one knows the Father except the Son”
Anabaptists hold to no theology except that stated by Jesus himself. Even as Jesus supersedes the Old Testament law, Jesus also rules over all theology that the church itself created, whether that by Paul or by Calvin or by N.T. Wright. And the focus of our belief is not a Jesus we create—such as a glorified, theological Jesus or a model of a historical Jesus or a cultural Jesus—but the Jesus of the gospels. Thus, the four gospels lead us to interpret all things through the words and life of Jesus.
Since Anabaptists affirm the superiority of Jesus, we also recognize the weakness of all things human to achieve truth or justice. Thus, any particular denomination or creed is only in a process of getting closer to or further from Jesus, but no church could ever be complete in and of itself. Various governments may attempt to achieve justice, but they all fail. Schools attempt to teach truth, but no matter how precise they are, they fail to achieve the full truth that Jesus gives us. (more…)

What do you know about Ervin Stutzman?

Yesterday, the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board named Ervin R. Stutzman the next executive director of Mennonite Church USA. Given that we’ve had three posts (by ST, by me and by Steve K) and 15 comments here on YAR about the search process for this position, I thought it would be worth talking about whether or not this appointment meets your expectations and hopes.

But the first step is finding out more about Ervin. I, for one, have never heard of him before. Do any of you know much about him? The highlights from his official bio in the Mennonite article include:

Some Thoughts About Reforming the Church

This is in response to a discussion on “A Platform for MCUSA”. https://young.anabaptistradicals.org/2009/04/09/a-platform-for-mcusa/
I got to thinking about something there and it got so long, I decided to post it seperately.

I suppose pretty much everyone on this forum is interested in reforming the church. Perhaps we don’t all agree at exactly what this reform looks like, but we agree that it must be done. There is a lot of talk here, but little action. It is time to make some changes. (more…)

Resurrection hope for new Mennonite Church USA executive director

I was originally writing this as a comment responding to the Search for next Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA post by ST, but it got quite long and so I posted it on As of Yet Untitled too.

Over on Young Anabaptist Radicals, we recently had a post asking for opinions and thoughts regarding the search for a new Mennonite Church Executive director. I asked to hear more about the job of the current executive director and Dave S responded with an overview of the work Jim Schrag does. One of the things that struck me about his response was the amount of time Jim spends focused on structures. Dave mentions "agencies, conferences, schools… many groups, convention planning, several boards, committees and leadership groups, and so on".

Reading Dave’s comment led me to a clearer sense of my hopes for the new executive director: that he or she can facilitate the de-bureaucratization of Mennonite Church USA and its agencies.

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A Platform for MCUSA

I have been involved in some pretty strange things—a church planter of an all-homeless/mentally ill congregation; encouraging leaders of a mosque in Bangladesh to re-think Jesus; dumpster diving for Jesus, and so recently becoming the poster child for dumpster diving in Portland (Check out http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/issues/archives/articles/0409-holy-diver/ and read a recent article about me—heck, just look at the pics!). Stuff like that. But when I got a call from MCUSA a week ago, that took the cake.

Someone nominated me to be the Executive Director of MCUSA.

At first I figured it must be a joke. Who would, in their right mind, think that I—radical pastor who has to bite his tongue every time he speaks to a middle class person—would make a good Executive Director? Someone just did it for a lark, I thought. Or perhaps I was recommended by someone who just wanted to shake things up. Well, that would do it. Me as taking Jim Schrag’s place? Just unthinkable. (more…)

Search for next Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA

Given all that we’ve talked about here, maybe there are some opinions on what the next Executive Director should do? Who it should be? How they should act? What salary (if any) they should be paid?

This is a chance to weigh in to the process. The search committee is consulting far and wide across the Mennonite church. Feel free to add your voice in the comment section below. (more…)

Caution: Mennonite Church USA Institutional Politics Ahead

One of the items discussed by delegates at the Mennonite Church USA churchwide assembly this month in San Jose was an resolution proposed by a group called Menno Neighbors. It is an informal group that meets once a year and they have a pretty active listserve. The resolution was changed to a statement for discussion by the resolutions committee of the executive board so there would not be a vote, just discussion. I was one of delegates that signed in support of this statement (didn’t get on the printed copy because I signed to too late).

The resolution is a call for conferences to stop disciplining congregations for differences in interpretation of the Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective and was written largely in reference to a number of congregations that have been disciplined or expelled from their conferences for being publicly welcoming and affirming of LGBT members (most recently Hyattsville Mennonite in Maryland).

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Young Adults Present Statement of Visions at San Jose

Roxy Allen and Jeremy Yoder present young adult visions at San Jose 2007

The following statement was drafted and presented at the San Jose 2007 Convention in response to an invitation from MC USA Executive Leadership for feedback from BikeMovement and associated conversations regarding young adult visions for the Mennonite church:

Young adults have been called the future of the church. We come before you today to say that the future has already begun.

We come from varied walks of life. Some of us went to Mennonite colleges, some of us did not. Some of us are connected to our home congregations, and others are finding it hard to connect to any congregation. We have built relationships that transcend geography. We are using the new medium of the Internet – including sites like the Young Anabaptist Radicals blog and the Anabaptist Network on Facebook – as forums for conversation, debate, and community. We are seekers in our faith and full of complex questions. (more…)