Tag Archives: Elizabeth Soto Albrecht

MC USA Executive Board releases statement, approves resolution

MC USA EB Feb 2014
Members of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board pray with MennoMedia staff. Photo by Hannah Heinzekehr.

HARRISONBURG, Va. (Mennonite Church USA)—In the midst of a winter storm, members of the Executive Board (EB) of Mennonite Church USA met Feb. 13–15 to prayerfully discern a way forward on a number of issues facing the broader church.

Together they affirmed the passage of a revised churchwide statement on immigration justice and a resolution that puts in place a task force to review the decision of Mountain States Mennonite Conference to license a pastor in a committed same-sex relationship. They also met with staff from MennoMedia to affirm a new strategic direction for the agency.

Thirteen members of the EB met with Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, and other EB staff members at Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Va. Weather prevented five board members from coming to the meetings in Harrisonburg, but they joined the board’s executive sessions via conference call.

The majority of the board’s time together was spent discerning a response to calls from across the church to respond to conversations around inclusion of LGBTQ members of Mennonite Church USA in leadership roles across the church. The board’s conversation focused primarily on two recent events: the decision by Mountain States Mennonite Conference to license Theda Good, a pastor who is in a committed same-sex relationship, for ministry at First Mennonite Church in Denver; and the announcement of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg to begin a listening process to review its policy of hiring faculty and staff in committed same-sex relationships.

Moderator Elizabeth Soto Albrecht of Lancaster, Pa., opened the meeting by exhorting the Executive Board to be communities of grace to one another.

“Mennonite Church USA is not a perfect church; it is a messy church,” she said. “We are a bunch of people trying to make sense of God’s grace. This weekend we must listen, listen and listen to one another and to members across Mennonite Church USA.”

EB members modeled their work together on principles of discernment suggested by Ruth Haley Barton: preparing and gathering information; putting themselves in a position to listen for God’s guidance; and discerning God’s will together. They were also joined by a facilitator, David Brubaker from EMU, who helped guide the conversations.

The board began by sharing their personal perspectives on the actions taken by Mountain States Mennonite Conference and EMU. The opinions stated spanned a broad spectrum. Some board members expressed disappointment that the board and staff did not process these decisions with the area conference and university before they were announced. The EB also read and listened to the words of individuals across the church who sent letters and e-mails urging the board to take action in response to the recent decisions by Mountain States Mennonite Conference and EMU. The letters also represented a wide range of opinions on the issue.

“What does it mean to come as a board member representing the whole—a whole that includes a broad diversity of opinions?” said Dick Thomas, past moderator and current board member from Lancaster, Pa. “We need to trust the Lord to help us make changes we need to make in time to be relevant and in a way that allows us to get there together.”

The Executive Committee of the board then presented a proposed statement for the board members to consider, encouraging them to take the statement with them overnight and to spend time in prayer discerning God’s leading. Over the course of the next two days, board members offered feedback and counsel to the Executive Committee. The statement underwent three revisions before the board approved a final version. While the statement had broad support across the EB, it did not pass unanimously.

As a whole, the board wrestled with the difficult task of responding to concerns expressed by LGBTQ brothers and sisters, while also tending to relationships with all parts of the church as expressed in written covenants of mutual accountability.

“We need to own all the tears and the anger that have gone into these conversations and honor them,” said Soto Albrecht. “We are called to represent the whole of Mennonite Church USA, and that’s not easy.”

The final statement calls for the creation of a listening task force to review the process by which Mountain States Mennonite Conference decided to license Theda Good, and to examine the ways these actions interface with the existing membership guidelines and polity documents of Mennonite Church USA. The task force will consist of Moderator-elect Patricia Shelly of Newton, Kan. (chair); David Boshart, Executive Committee member; and two to three members of the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) (to be named). After receiving counsel from the CLC at its next meeting in March 2014, the task force will conduct a review and bring a recommendation for next steps to the EB at its June 2014 meeting. The full text of the statement, which includes instructions for contacting the task force, is available online.

The board also met with Loren Swartzendruber, president of EMU, and Carlos Romero, executive director of Mennonite Education Agency (MEA), to learn more about EMU’s listening process regarding the hiring of faculty and staff members who are in committed same-sex relationships. Swartzendruber said that after listening to voices from across the church, he and the EMU cabinet will bring a recommendation to EMU’s board. The EB urged Swartzendruber to stay in close consultation with Romero and MEA as the process moves forward.

During the meeting, the board also affirmed the release of a revised statement on immigration justice, which delegates called for at the Phoenix convention in July 2013. The statement reads in part, “We renounce the indifference to and mistreatment of undocumented and documented immigrants that has occurred and continues to occur in our congregations, our communities and this country. We are committed to joining God’s reconciling mission and to live and act as sisters and brothers in Christ regardless of our legal status.”

The statement also includes a list of resources for congregations and individuals to use in learning more about and engaging immigration issues. Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA, is also working on the development of a six-week curriculum, Radical Hospitality: Responding to Issues of Immigration, for use in Sunday school and small group settings.

The EB met with MennoMedia staff members to learn about their strategic planning process for the next five years. They plan to explore new print-on-demand technologies; to continue expanding the marketing and availability of Herald Press books; and to gear up for the launch of a new Sunday school curriculum, Shine, in the summer of 2014. Together the board prayed for Menno Media’s staff and board, and blessed their work.

The EB also said farewell to and blessed Marty Lehman, associate executive director for churchwide operations for Mennonite Church USA, who will be leaving her position in April 2014; and Nancy Heisey, who resigned her EB term early..

The CLC will meet March 20–22 in Newton, Kan. The EB’s next meeting will be June 26–28 in Chicago.

See also:

Gathering with Elizabeth Soto Albrecht

Elizabeth Soto AlbrechtElizabeth Soto Albrecht, the new moderator of Mennonite Church USA, recently completed a 3-week journey around the United States visiting Mennonite Church USA congregations.  Elizabeth joined pastors and Conference Related Ministry leaders on August 23 to share her learnings and challenges from that journey and hopes for the future of the church and to listen to stories and answer questions from Franconia and Eastern District leaders.

 

Download the podcast

We’re fit, prayerful, and we stick together

Phoenix prayer walkby Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

As we neared the park, the police officer guiding our prayer walk through the streets of Phoenix thanked Mennonite Church USA’s leaders for allowing her to participate in the event.  “Many groups string out and lag behind,” she said, “But you guys stick together, you’re fit, and you’re prayerful.  You’ve made my day.”

Her words produced a chuckle that toasty summer evening, but I’ve continued to chew on them as I’ve accompanied Elizabeth Soto Albrecht on the last two weeks of her cross-country journey to visit Mennonite Church USA congregations.

We have visited congregations who gather three or four times a week for prayer meetings, congregations who participate in acts of civil disobedience, congregations who march in parades, who hold community fairs and weekly laundry outreaches, who open their facilities to the homeless, who wrestle with Scripture and sometimes one another.

We met leaders who speak Spanish, English, Indonesian, French, Vietnamese, German, Creole, and Garifuna.  We worshiped with congregations who sang out of hymnbooks, who sang off the wall, who sang from memory.  We prayed with our hands lifted in the air, in silent moments of meditation, and on awkward but delightful walks through city streets.  We had conversations with people who are concerned about the future of Mennonite Church USA, with people who are excited about it, and with people who didn’t even know they belonged to Mennonite Church USA.

In some ways, the police officer’s observations are a reflection of who we want to be, who we are on our best day.  We’re fit, active, working to bring about God’s reign on earth.  We’re prayerful, throwing ourselves and our hopes and dreams on the mercy of a faithful, just, and loving God.  We stick together, knowing that faith must happen in community, even when members of that community don’t agree with or even like one another.

On our journey, Elizabeth has often reminded congregations that our denomination is only 12 years old.  Like most preteens, we’re still trying to figure out who we are, how we should behave.  The next few years, our teen years, will show us what we’re made of as we face increasingly difficult and potentially divisive issues.  Will we stay fit and prayerful?  Will we stick together?  Will our neighbors, like the police officer, want to participate in what God is doing in our midst?

Maybe her words were less an observation and more a prophetic word on that final evening of Convention.  Maybe our prayer walk was less for the people of Phoenix and more for ourselves, a symbolic act that marked the transition between what has been and what could be.  Maybe it was an act of hope, of promise, a way of assuring ourselves, even as we worry and doubt, that with some cold water, exercise, and plenty of prayer, we can stick together.  Even in the Arizona heat.

We see ourselves

Gutsy women
Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and Patty Shelly ask Phoenix delegates if they are ready for two women to lead Mennonite Church USA. Photo by Emily Ralph.

I would have told you that I didn’t need a woman leading our denomination.

I would have been wrong.

When Elizabeth Soto Albrecht was given her charge as moderator of Mennonite Church USA on July 5, I felt a thrill run through me.  We had been on the road for a week at that point and I wondered, “Is this what a campaign worker feels like when she sees her candidate take the oath of office?”

A few moments later, Elizabeth and Patty Shelly, the moderator-elect, stood before the delegate body and asked, “Are you ready for two women to lead Mennonite Church USA?”  The crowd applauded and I almost bounced up and down with excitement.

Where was this coming from?  There have been other women who have served as moderator, although most of them were before I was involved enough to be aware.  Why was Elizabeth’s appointment so special for me?

In our first trip together, Elizabeth and I traveled to New York City.  As we ate dinner with a Mennonite pastor in Brooklyn, his face lit up.  “This is an important day,” he said.  “For years, we urban Mennonites have been looking at our leadership, looking for a face we recognize.”  And now, with Elizabeth as the first Latina moderator of Mennonite Church USA, they finally looked to their leadership and saw themselves.

Everywhere we have traveled so far, Elizabeth has been greeted with enthusiasm and warmth.  But when we visit Hispanic congregations, something is different; the energy in the air is palpable, the prayer is fervent.  These congregations sent her to Phoenix in the same way that God sent prophets to Israel: as one individual representing something greater than herself.

I knew this was the case; I have even explained to others on a number of occasions how important Elizabeth’s appointment is to the Hispanic community.  Until the moment when she received her charge, however, it was just knowledge.  In that moment, I felt a dawning awareness of how personal that identification could be: This is what it feels like to look at the moderator and see myself.

When I told my spiritual director that I was going to be traveling with Elizabeth this summer, she laughed.  “That’s one gutsy woman,” she said.  Then she stopped and looked at me.  “But you like gutsy women.”

It’s true.  I do like gutsy women.  And my heart’s desire is that I will be one.

To all the gutsy women who have challenged the status quo, battled through sexism, engaged the hard questions, bridged cultures and theologies and relationships, and sacrificed for the good of the wider church, thank you.  May you more and more often look to our leadership and see a reflection of yourselves.  And may our children and grandchildren look to our leadership and see you.

Taste and see

Meridianby Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Sitting at the kitchen table, savoring a vegetarian groundnut stew with Catherine and Michael and their two boys, I listen as they describe the racist direction of recent laws passed by the North Carolina legislature.  Christians in their community have mobilized, joining weekly protests and acts of civil disobedience.  The members of their small congregation in Chapel Hill continue to wrestle with their response as people of privilege in the midst of overwhelming injustice.

I taste.

Juanita’s eyes twinkle as she greets us at the door of her congregation’s meetinghouse in Apopka, Florida and leads us to the banquet table.  “Everything is homemade from scratch–my husband said the house smelled like Christmas this morning!” she laughs.  “It is like Christmas, because we’re going to celebrate!”  MC USA’s first Latina moderator is visiting Juanita’s congregation, and they are beaming with excitement as they urge her to fill her plate, present her with gifts, anoint her with oil, cover her with prayers.

It is good.

Elaine cooks one-hour grits (no instant here!).  The time it takes to prepare that staple of the American south reflects the relaxed pace of life in Meridian, Mississippi.  Church leaders serve themselves from a counter laden with southern goodies surrounding a vase of brown-eyed Susans and settle in for a chat around a table that seems to stretch on forever.  Their communities are struggling with an economic depression, outbreaks of violence, and rampant alcoholism.  Yet their stories show that, in the midst of this brokenness, church is a refuge, a companion.  Native Americans from the Seminole and Choctaw tribes worship alongside Anglo and Latino/a brothers and sisters, a sign of hope and reconciliation.

I taste.

With outstretched hands, four pastors in Dallas lead their congregations in prayer over our new moderator, a cacophony of intercession and praise to a God who cares for the orphan, the widow, and the “alien” among us.  Their delight overflows into a time of fellowship after the service as they gather in the parking lot to laugh and drink arroz con leche.  The sky darkens, but the conversation continues for hours.

It is good.

Each stop on our journey is too brief, but each face, each language, each food brings out another flavor of God, reminding us that the God who made us all is more than the idol we’ve built in our own image.  Each encounter is an invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good.

***

Emily is traveling with Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, the new moderator of Mennonite Church USA, on a three-week journey around the country.  Follow along at JourneyWithElizabeth.com.

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.”

The vision sounds different

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Primera Iglesia Menonita de Brooklyn
Elizabeth Soto Albrecht prays with two pastors who are struggling through immigration issues. Photo by Emily Ralph

Admittedly, I’ve not been a huge fan of Mennonite Church USA’s vision statement.  It’s felt cliché as we’ve reiterated a utopic collection of Anglo American Mennonites’ favorite words strung into a sequence.

This past weekend, as I accompanied Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, Mennonite Church USA moderator-elect, to worship with Mennonite congregations in New York City, I realized something.

Our vision sounds different in Spanish.

It’s not just that the words sound different, although they do.  The meaning of the words takes on new depth when it’s being said by men and women who are faced with oppression, racism, anger, and uncertainty; nice words become a challenge to live like Jesus in the midst of struggle.

At Primera Iglesia Menonita in Brooklyn, immigration advocates gathered downstairs to connect immigrants with resources and an immigration lawyer guided them through the massive paperwork maze needed to achieve adequate documentation.  Upstairs, the congregation worshiped a faithful God who cares for widows, orphans, and “aliens” and shared their own stories of fleeing persecution, enduring economic oppression, and struggling to keep their families together.

How do we let la esperanza de Dios fluyan a través when we are paid less than minimum wage and when we watch helplessly as our families are needlessly deported?

At Garifuna Iglesia Menonita in Harlem, members of the American Garifuna community (people from Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, and Guatemala of African descent) worshiped enthusiastically in Spanish and Garifuna accompanied by four sets of drums, flowing back and forth between languages as fluidly as the call and response of their leaders and congregation.

How do we grow as comunidades de gracia, gozo y paz when people tell us to “go back where we came from” or when simply walking the streets might lead to a stop and frisk from the New York Police?

At Iglesia Menonita Unida de Avivamiento in Brooklyn, where we said the vision together in Spanish, one of the congregation’s pastors sat across from Elizabeth over dinner and said, “Those of us in urban churches have been looking at our denomination’s leadership for a long time, waiting for someone we recognize.  This is a historic moment.”  It is a moment that could lead to la sanidad de Dios.

I’m beginning to realize that healing sounds different in Spanish.  And that true healing and hope also move us toward a new understanding of God’s justice, “that flows like a mighty stream.”

“God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit,
to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace,
so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”

“Dios nos llama a ser seguidores de Jesucristo, y por el poder del Espíritu Santo,
a crecer como comunidades de gracia, gozo y paz,
para que la sanidad y la esperanza de Dios fluyan a través de nosotros al mundo.”

********************

Emily is accompanying Elizabeth Soto Albrecht on her Journey to Phoenix this summer.  Follow along at JourneywithElizabeth.com or on Facebook and Twitter.

Franconia supports moderator-elect on Phoenix pilgrimage

by John Tyson, Salford

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht
Soto Albrecht traces the planned route for this summer’s journey to Phoenix. Photo by Emily Ralph.

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.

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht
Soto Albrecht (right) talks with two of her students from Lancaster Theological Seminary. Photo by Emily Ralph.

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.