Church as an extension of family

Ben-Widemanby Ben Wideman, Salford

I am a child of the Mennonite world – my parents met while doing Voluntary Service in Mississippi and were married soon after.   Believe it or not, I was even born on the day of our area Mennonite Central Committee relief sale!  My parents recognized the value in bringing me up with the church as an extension of my family system.

The church (no joke: WIDEMAN Mennonite) was where I found my biggest supporters, best friends, and strongest mentors.  From an early age I was given the opportunity to participate in the life of the church through handing out bulletins, participating as an usher or greeter, reading scripture, and then transitioning into helping with music and worship leading.

Looking back, I am certain that those church leaders who tapped me on the shoulder were extremely influential in shaping my calling.  They provided me with confidence, encouragement, and a belief that there was real value in an authentic church community.  However it wasn’t until leaving that my home congregation that I felt a more direct sense of calling toward church ministry.

As I prepared to head off to college, I found myself wondering what path I would take.  I originally applied to Eastern Mennonite University as a business major, but was unsure of how that would unfold.  I clearly remember the Nashville Youth Convention as an experience where I felt a strong sense that God was directing me toward pastoral ministry, and after that week was over, I contacted EMU to switch my intended major to Biblical Studies.  As I began to share this decision with my friends and family, I was surprised by how many people affirmed this decision as if they had expected it all along!  From that point on, I have seen God at work shaping this call through a variety of people and experiences in my life.

I graduated from EMU and began to work at the Admissions Office on campus.  I spent three years in that role as a college recruiter and inadvertently explored and experienced the denomination as I traveled throughout the country.  After I left my position at EMU and moved to California, my experience at Fuller Theological Seminary allowed me to dig deeper into my faith tradition and theological convictions in a multi-denominational environment.  It was an incredible experience and one that has continued to shape who I am today.

My calling to Franconia Conference and Salford Mennonite Church was an unexpected transition.  My wife Meredith and I had all but ruled out this area as an option for ministry, preferring to find a congregation in an urban, non-traditional Mennonite context.  It was the pastoral leadership at Salford who reached out to us and began the conversation that eventually led to our arrival.  We did not expect to find a home here, but we have been blessed by a wonderful faith community and a new church family.

My new role as associate pastor of youth and young adults allows me to experience many different aspects of pastoral ministry, while continuing to develop who I am as a new pastor.  I look forward to God’s continued guidance in my life, wherever that may take me in the future.