Incoming moderator launches nationwide tour

IDA
Pastor Byron Pellecer, conference minister Owen Burkholder, Soto Albrecht, and executive director of MC USA Ervin Stutzman answer questions at Iglesia Discipular Anabaptista. Photo by Emily Ralph.

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Mennonite Church USA’s incoming moderator Elizabeth Soto Albrecht has begun her journey around the United States to visit MC USA congregations. Soto Albrecht will receive her charge as moderator this Friday, the final day of MC USA’s Phoenix convention.

A native of Puerto Rico, Soto Albrecht is visiting some of the congregations that are not attending MC USA’s convention in Phoenix because of Arizona’s rigorous anti-illegal immigration legislation; she will also drop in at pastors’ breakfasts, home communities, and regional gatherings to listen to the concerns and hopes of the diverse people who make up Mennonite Church USA. Many of these events in the coming week will be streamed live on her website, JourneyWithElizabeth.com.

After several short trips in May and June to Norristown (Pa.), New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., Soto Albrecht, along with a three-person support team, began the three-week circuit on June 28 with a service of blessing and sending at James Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster (Pa).

During the service, Janet Breneman, Soto Albrecht’s pastor, presented the moderator elect with a photograph of the members of her home congregation, Laurel Street Mennonite Church, as a symbol of their presence with her, sending her and praying for her. Two days later, Soto Albrecht showed that photo to Lindale Mennonite Church (Harrisonburg, Va.) before she preached, saying, “I could not have taken this journey without my home congregation—they have made it possible.”

The sending service concluded with a prayer walk in the west side of Lancaster city. This was the second of what Soto Albrecht hopes to be many prayer walks on her journey; the first was with Philadelphia Praise Center in South Philadelphia. “It is so meaningful when those gathered in the church facility leave the comfort of those four walls and people witness our presence in the neighborhood,” Soto Albrecht observes. “We prayed for the peace of the city and people are more than willing to do that as part of their worship.”

In addition to preaching at Lindale, Soto Albrecht visited Iglesia Discipular Anabaptista (IDA) in Harrisonburg, where she spoke on discipleship and joined Ervin Stutzman, MC USA’s executive director, in a time of Q&A with the congregation.

Chapel Hill
Soto Albrecht visits with Isaac Villegas at Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship. Photo by Emily Ralph.

During that exchange, one member of IDA asked how those who remain behind will be remembered in Phoenix. “On the last night, we’re going on a prayer walk,” Soto Albrecht told him. Thousands of Mennonites will walk the streets, stopping to pray outside the detention center, and finally converge in a park to pray and sing together. “The prayer walk is the peace church making itself visible,” she said.

Both the prayer walk and Soto Albrecht’s keynote address Friday evening will be streamed live on her website.

After their Saturday and Sunday morning visits in Harrisonburg, Soto Albrecht’s team continued on to Chapel Hill, N.C., where members of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, pastored by Isaac Villegas, made their way through five inches of rain and flooded roads to worship together.

“The ongoing message that I’ve been receiving is people affirming my decision to have this journey, saying, ‘We’re with you. We understand why you decided not to attend Phoenix and to instead have this long journey before arriving at the delegate session on Friday,’” reflects Soto Albrecht. “Those comments affirmed over and over again that this journey is part of God’s plan for us and how important it is that we connect with one another.”

At the same time, however, her thoughts and prayers are also with the delegates gathering in Phoenix and she looks forward to joining them on Friday for the final delegate session and evening worship.

Although only a few days into the journey, Soto Albrecht has already reconnected with many old friends and become acquainted with many new ones. “I’ve found that people are pleasantly surprised that I’m taking time to stop and join smaller churches or larger churches, to listen to them,” she says. “It is especially important to connect with Spanish-speaking congregations, to let them know that I know their struggles and that we are committed as a church to seek justice on their behalf. I’m looking forward to journeying with them in their struggle and to continue to be sent for and by them to Phoenix.”

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