by Andrew Mashas, Anabaptist Missional Project (reposted by permission)
On the weekend of June 29 – July 1, 45 people from around the country gathered at Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia for the Anabaptist Missional Project (AMP) conference. Attendees experienced a time of worship, discussion, and fellowship centered on the growing and expanding diversity among Anabaptists in America, specifically within MCUSA. Throughout the weekend, attendees discussed the difficulty of embracing other cultures while maintaining an Anabaptist identity.
The conference, titled “The Spirit’s Work in Mission: Prophesying about Many Peoples,” focused on a vision of the Kingdom of God in the book of Revelation, which explains that every nation, tribe, and tongue will come together to worship the one true Lord and King, Jesus Christ.
Speakers David and Madeline Maldonado shared about the hundreds of Guatemalan immigrant workers attending their Florida congregation. As the number of immigrant attendees increased, so did the ethnic tensions between the Guatemalan workers and Puerto Rican congregants. The Maldonados explained the reconciliation that took place within the church and its example to the community.
Both Habecker and Oxford Circle Mennonite churches of Pennsylvania were able to share their stories of struggle with identity in the midst of declining church attendance and about revitalization within the church.
Leonard Dow of Oxford Circle, a Franconia Conference Partner in Mission, gave a passionate testimony on how the congregation provided a nonviolent protective community around residents who were threatened with violence, allowing for a new approach to community outreach.
In the case of Habecker, Pastor Karen Sensenig described the congregation’s willingness to become vulnerable to God’s transforming spirit. She explained how the church embraced Burmese refugees who stumbled upon their small rural congregation in Lancaster County. And now, with the church seeing a resurgence of life because of this newly found diversity among the community, they’re able to tell their story to the broader Anabaptist community.
“’New Life’ expresses my response to the conference,” said Pastor Sensenig in reflection on the dynamics of the conference. “The vitality that young people bring to the church is so full of hope. They ask questions that push us into new considerations of the movement of God among us. They are willing to be vulnerable and to take risks. The sincere engagement of the group put us all on a quest to discover just what is needed to open a way for the Spirit to blow into our midst in unexpected ways.”
Meal times were spent in dynamic discussion around a variety of topics including the history of racism, ethnic divisions, and sensitivities in the West and among churches in America. This discussion provided a platform for people to share their faith journeys with new people across the Anabaptist landscape.
Many of the conference organizers, including Carmen Horst, Ben Wideman and Aaron Kauffman agreed that this year’s conference lacked ethnic diversity and representation from multicultural congregations within the Philadelphia area.
“I was hoping for a diverse group of individuals who were interested in networking and entering into dialogue with each other on the subject of mission and had hopes that there would be a large contingent from the local area, but in the end only a few could make it.” said Ben Wideman, associate pastor at Salford Mennonite Church in Harleysville, Pa.
As for the future of the AMP conference, organizer Carmen Horst, associate pastor at James Street Mennonite Church, said, “I hope that those who have been leading our church for a longer time will pay attention to AMP and see a group of people who can be committed to serving Jesus together without agreeing on some of the issues facing the church. What draws me to AMP is the love for and commitment to the Church.”
Some would also like to see AMP grow to have regionally specific and more frequent gatherings. Aaron Kauffman, Global Ministries Director at Virginia Mennonite Missions said, “I would love to see this kind of thing continue to multiply in other parts of the country where local AMP networks would gather to worship, share insights, and spur one another onto greater faithfulness as witnesses to the reign of God in Christ.”
The sky seems to be the limit for a group like AMP. Creating a space for dynamic and in-depth conversation around the church and its mission while facilitating intentional fellowship among many cultures and ethnicities will serve as an example to the broader Mennonite Church. As Carmen Horst described it, “The leaders and participants of AMP recognize the many failings and brokenness of our Church, and yet desire to remain in it. Out of our love for this messy thing called church, we try to create spaces for speaking truth and growing in truth together.”