by John Tyson, Salford
Elizabeth Soto Albrecht will become moderator of Mennonite Church USA at the denomination’s Phoenix convention this July. Phoenix, however, will be only one of her many stops this summer. The scholar and pastor, who calls Lancaster, Pa. home, is embarking on a nation-wide pilgrimage to visit MC USA congregations.
Following brief “send-off” trips to Norristown (Pa.), New York City, and Philadelphia, Soto Albrecht will begin her journey by heading down the east coast to Florida, before venturing west to Phoenix in time to deliver the keynote address on the final day of the convention, July 5. Immediately afterward, she will spend two additional weeks circling up the west coast and across the Midwest before arriving home in Lancaster, PA on July 21.
In light of Arizona’s controversial immigration legislation, the purpose of Soto Albrecht’s journey is to listen to stories of MC USA congregations most impacted by the decision to hold the convention in Phoenix. The legislation includes a “show me your papers” provision which authorizes law enforcement to arbitrarily check an individual’s immigration status. The provision has been accused of permitting a form of racial profiling. “I may not have power to make cultural institutional change, but I can speak,” said Soto Albrecht, originally from Puerto Rico.
On her recent visit to Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Soto Albrecht expressed her vision of a church remaining united amidst growing diversity. “No more shunning, no more violence … We must learn how to fight for unity.” Soto Albrecht’s pilgrimage will help her to better lead an increasingly diverse denomination into the challenging, often polarizing, terrain of the twenty-first century. “When we return, and I look back, I want to be able to say I was empowered by holding all these stories and those narratives coming from many perspectives and walks of life, but labeled under MC USA, and that they inform and shape me as moderator.”
Franconia Conference’s Executive Minister, Ertell Whigham, shares Soto Albrecht’s passion for the work of cultivating a truly united church. “Within unity is both reconciliation and representation,” Whigham said. “Unity requires effort and calls for truth and a willingness to invest in what and who we claim to be or want to become. Franconia Conference believes that Sister Soto’s pilgrimage is one representation of the effort to hear ‘the rest of the story.’”
In support of Soto Albrecht’s journey, Franconia Conference is sending associate director of communication, Emily Ralph, to provide communication support — including a web presence, podcasts, audio, video, and blogging. Soto Albrecht will also be accompanied by her husband, Frank, while Harry Jarrett, pastor at Neffsville (Lancaster, Pa.) and moderator of Atlantic Coast Conference, will provide further social media support for the week leading up to Phoenix.
The soon-to-be moderator is encouraging congregations who are not able to risk going to Phoenix, or are remaining home in protest, to proclaim God’s hospitality in their own communities. “If God has called you to go to Phoenix, go with a prophetic voice. If you do not go, do some symbolic act that week, and send a report to Phoenix.”
Some local congregations are considering the option of doing a prayer walk in their respective neighborhoods on Friday, July 5, the day that Elizabeth will give the keynote address and lead a prayer walk in Phoenix.
Soto Albrecht’s pilgrimage will be chronicled at JourneyWithElizabeth.com, which states that “her journey begins with a single story and ends with a thousand.” In addition to collecting stories from Soto Albrecht’s travels, the website will also serve as a forum for others to share their own stories with Soto Albrecht and the rest of the Mennonite church.