Tag Archives: Church

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.

Church Lives

By Ben Sutter, benjamins5@goshen.edu

What is Church? This summer, as a ministry inquiry intern with Franconia Conference, I have seen Church live in so many ways. I’ve interacted and reacted to people, thoughts, and spiritual movements around me. I’ve asked questions. I have seen the incredible similarities and vast differences between what people call ‘Church.’

Can a conference be Church? What about a denomination? Can one person start Church? Can Church be one person? What is Church anyway? Am I a part of Church? How do I even start to define it?

The first encounter I had with Church this summer was at a Fund for Theological Education Conference in New Orleans. I spent five days with other undergraduate and graduate students talking about the role of Church in our lives and how it will continue to shape our futures.

During a tour of the city, we visited First Grace Methodist Church, a post-Katrina congregation born in the merging of a historically black congregation with a historically white congregation. One of our guides suggested that Church is like gumbo. She described this gumbo-Church as a bunch of stuff all thrown together that makes something wonderful—butyou don’t really want to know what’s in it.

Church can feel like that sometimes.

Pittsburgh convention this July offered another view of Church, this time within the denominational structure of Mennonite Church USA. People joined together from across the country to define where the denomination now finds itself. There were discussions, conversation rooms, and delegate sessions full of people sharing their stories. Many of these stories included pain. People and institutions can habitually and unintentionally harm those around them.

Does Church hurt people?

After convention, I traveled to Baltimore to visit Nueva Esperanza Baltimore, a Spanish-speaking church plant. The neighborhood of the church plant was desolate; it didn’t take much effort to spot a drug deal, a fist fight, or a prostitute—all in the middle of the day. Ubaldo Rodriguez, Nueva Esperanza’s pastor, hopes to build something from that desolation. But when does it become more than a pastor trying to build a congregation?

When does it become Church?

I also traveled with a group to Mexico City to build relationships with Church. The Bible School we helped with was an outreach that impacted the neighborhood. Alicia Alvarez and Ariel Avila, our hosts, had hearts for God and an incredible work ethic. But Fraternidad Christiana Prensa, their congregation, is in the midst of conflict. The long-time families of the church find themselves on opposing sides of many different issues and unable to agree.

Does Church argue?

Last Sunday evening I was driving home with my roommate, Ardi. When I told him I was writing a blog post about Church, he chimed in.

“Many people think that church is the building, that it’s just what they do on Sunday morning,” he said. “Each one of us is Church. Church happens every day, all the time, whenever we connect with God. We become sanctuaries for God, the Church.”

Cutting through all my questions, an unanticipated comment provides an answer. What is Church? These moments are Church. Church is something beautiful, something beautiful that lives.

We are Church.