Ronnel is 10. He’s a 4th grader. He lives with his grandma and mom (who is several years clean from substance abuse). There’s no father in the picture. Ronnel walks the short distance to the program site every Saturday during the three-month summer program operated by Radical Living (with support from Nickels for Neighbors). At school he is identified as a “problem child.” And there are times during the summer program when he does pose certain challenges to Radical Living staff – for example, he can be very stubborn and refuse to participate in group activities and, at times, he takes a defiant tone.
But Ronnel is committed to the Radical Living community and to learning how to grow vegetables, herbs, and berries – and even how to cook healthy recipes from homegrown produce. He’s grown in his ability to communicate his feelings and frustrations, and has even learned some conflict transformation tools. Last summer, the Radical Living youth and staff took a one-week trip to a farm in Vermont. Ronnel had never left the city before. In fact, he has hardly left Brooklyn. He became very homesick and almost had to be driven the five hours back to NYC. The next day, after experiencing very real homesickness, he saw a baby calf be born. For some reason – perhaps simply seeing new life enter the world or witnessing the miracle of birth – Ronnel chose to stay and participate in the group activities.
With help from Nickels for Neighbors, Radical Living has been able to provide an extra layer of support to Ronnel and his family, and a couple dozen other families very similar to Ronnel. We are thankful for the ACC family and all the church support. Thank you! We are a small non-profit in the heart of Brooklyn serving our city’s most vulnerable. We are always in need of support. If you’d like to contribute to the important work of transforming the lives of young people in Brooklyn, please visit www.radical-living.org and click “donate.”
Several ACC congregations participated in Mennonite World Conference’s World Fellowship Sunday on January 20. This year, the theme for World Fellowship Sunday is “Justice on the Journey: Migration and the Anabaptist Story.” Anabaptist sisters and brothers in faith around the world joined in remembering that God is with all who have been uprooted and displaced from their homes.
The Scripture passages chosen by Mennonite World Conference were Leviticus 19:33-34 and Luke 4:18-21. In Leviticus, God reminds the people that
they were once strangers in the land of Egypt, and so must treat the aliens among them as fellow citizens. In Luke’s Gospel, meanwhile, Jesus proclaims the Jubilee year, the arrival of the promised day of good news for prisoners, the poor, and the oppressed.
At Ridgeview MC, Mu Kaw was invited to share his journey as a Karen refugee from Thailand to the United States and about his life now. Pastor Audrey Kanagy interviewed Mu Kaw. One thing that stood out to the congregation was his courage to learn despite the challenges he has faced. He is the first of his people group in Lancaster to attend college. He is currently in his second year at Millersville University. He also talked about his community receiving blankets and school kits when they were in the refugee camp, not knowing where they came from. When they came to Lancaster and began attending Habbecker’s Mennonite Church, they were surprised and delighted to see the church making blankets and putting MCC kits together. They immediately and enthusiastically jumped into this ministry and now bless each project as it goes out, just as they received those blessings in Thailand.
Thanks to Pastors Audrey Kanagy and Todd Friesen for contributing to this story.
Pastor Wara Widuri (front left) and Anielle Santoso, MCC worker, were the primary planners for the Indonesian Sister Care seminar. They are pictured with Rhoda Keener (back left) and Carolyn Heggen.
After nearly four years of planning, Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing, and Rhoda Keener (Hebron MC), Sister Care director for Mennonite Women USA, led a Sister Care leadership training seminar January 28-30, 2019 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the epicenter of the 2006 earthquake that left over 5,700 dead, tens of thousands injured, and hundreds of thousands homeless. It was a fitting location for the Sister Care seminar which helps women heal their own trauma and trains them to help others heal.
The 89 women who attended came from the islands of Java, northern and southern Sumatra, Bali, and Papua. They represented two of the three major Anabaptist groups in Indonesia – GKMI and GITJ – as well as 4 women from local evangelical congregations. They traveled by boat, plane, train, bus and car, some for days, to get to the retreat center.
Women were particularly touched by the exercise of writing their life timeline They said they have never been asked to think about the chapters of their lives and who was the face of Jesus for them at difficult or painful times.
Indonesia is the 17th country where Mennonite Women USA’s Sister Care seminar has been shared. The manual: Sister Care: Equipping Women for Healing Ministry by Carolyn Heggen with Rhoda Keener has been translated into 13 languages.
Karyn Nancarvis is a member of Akron Mennonite Church and is pursuing a Master of Divinity Degree from Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS). She has served as chair of the ACC Youth Committee since 2017.
Rounding the corner in my final year as a student at EMS, I’m aware of the liminal space in which I live, work, and cultivate my calling. I’m standing in the space between – a forming vision of what’s ahead in life and ministry after seminary and a rear view of my journey through the courses, formational experiences and growth spurts -some I’ve resisted and others I’ve readily embraced.
In a recent time of discernment, I began to flesh out a deep passion for faith-based corporate worship. I’m energized in community and curious about what motivates us and keeps us engaged in our weekly encounter with God. I’m drawn to the diversity of each congregation, context and practice, so I’ve decided to experience ALL of the church communities who are members of the Atlantic Coast Conference – an ACC Tour – yes, all 32 of them within a year’s time!
What will I intentionally explore once I’m there? Four things:
From the perspective of a member congregant / lay person(s): What does it mean for your church to be a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference? I ask to connect briefly with someone during coffee time, or have someone write up a sentence or two to post on the blog I’ve created to reflect my experience.
I’m interested in the possibility to introduce myself to the senior youth (9th-12th grades) in hopes of enriching my contribution as Chair of ACC Youth Ministry Team.
I want to learn more about whom each church is serving. What makes a church unique in its context? Do they have a strong community outreach? Perhaps a vital house church community?
I’ll humbly ask each church’s pastor for a selfie (see below) with my to remember my experience!
I’ll finish my tour with a “Letter to ACC” summarizing my learnings and experiences and a report at the ACC Spring Assembly.
It’s been an enriching journey having worshipped with three ACC churches so far. As I tour our family of churches, I’d welcome any who feel led to pray for each congregation and me as I experience welcome and worship, interact with members, and travel to some distant meeting spaces.
It is widely recognized that energy for organized religious activity is waning. People are seeking sources outside of the church to direct their energy and interest as well as looking for answers and community in new places. This reality impacts churches across the US, regardless of denomination. The North American church is faced with what seems to be a new faith landscape and is therefore impacted by a changing culture with new needs.
Though we face a numerically declining faith community in the US, the future of God’s reign here on earth is not bleak! We see growth globally, fresh and vibrant vision in many local communities, and a Church that is alive and adapting to new challenges.
Communities of faith must continue to adapt its means and methods to remain fresh and vibrant. The New Testament directive of being counter cultural witnesses to “light in darkness” has not changed and remains a relevant vision for Christ’s disciples today.
Between 1905 and 2000, eventual and current ACC congregations were involved in planting at least 50 churches from North Carolina to Massachusetts. This era, particularly the 1940s-1980s, was a time of enormous motivation to have a Mennonite presence in the region’s rural and urban communities. Rural churches were often started by congregations with families willing to relocate. Urban church plants tended to follow the clustering of Mennonite professionals. God’s Spirit was clearly on the move through that phase of our history and produced vibrant congregations — many that thrive today. However, the dynamics that motivated this movement are not as prevalent today; church planting, at least on much of the east coast, has not been a priority in recent years. Other methods of meeting present needs seem to have come and gone, each with its good fruit and perfect time, from the widespread sending of missionaries abroad to the apparent usefulness of church bulletins.
Today, congregations are finding new and different ways of living out their vision and mission. Congregations experiencing the cyclical nature of decline and revitalization have found new and inventive ways of adapting how they extend God’s love and welcome members into their faith community.
Conestoga Mennonite Church
CMC recently affirmed a core vision for existing “to benefit others” through which leaders evaluate each of the congregation’s ministries. This way of evaluation is paired with a change to their constitution. Anyone with a vision for a new ministry, as well as the integrity to lead it, receives an automatic blessing and partnership from the congregation to pursue the proposed vision.
Reflecting on these changes, Pastor Bob Petersheim notes that “The above foci led to several dynamic ministries that has made CMC known in the community. CMC is seen as a place deeply invested in meeting relevant needs such as our food pantry that feeds on average 140 households a month; a no-cost counseling center that brings persons through the doors that would not open a church door for any other reason — let alone a Mennonite church door; a network of safe houses that has rescued woman and children out of domestic violence, etc.”
Forest Hills Mennonite Church
At FHMC, leaders have been intentional about creating a safe and welcoming atmosphere for those without a “cradle Mennonite” pedigree. Pastor Jon Carlson notes his own lack of a “clean, lifelong Menno connection.” Even though he embraces Mennonite faith and identity for himself, he does not hide the fact that he had not heard the term “Mennonite” until age 14. “By being there and being transparent about my lack of deep ethnic Menno heritage, I think I’m helping to create a space that says “being Mennonite does not require being ethnically Mennonite.”
Becky Degan, pastor of worship and faith formation at Forest Hills, is another non-ethnic Mennonite. She leads worship for a congregation that still has a deep appreciation for Mennonite Hymnody along with various other genres and styles. Making space for the spectrum of worship preferences has taken work. “I think one of the most important ways we have navigated this as we’ve welcomed more families with preferences outside the ‘Menno hymns’ tradition is through conversation and relationship,” said Degan. A recent Sunday School elective series focused on inviting individuals to choose a song for the group to sing and then to share why it was important to them. “To hear someone share why a song or genre is important to them – to put a name and face to a song – went a long way in helping people to accept and participate more fully in different kinds of music during worship. Also, giving people a voice to express why Mennonite hymns (or contemporary music) are important to them helped them feel heard and valued.”
Blossom Hill Mennonite Church
Sharing God’s love by pursuing change in our world is a central aspect of the outward ministry of BHMC. “Our work against injustice is based on the greatest commandment of loving God, self, neighbor and even our enemies,” says Michelle Dula, lead pastor at Blossom Hill. “It is this kind of love that Jesus emulated as he reached out to people on the margins. The basis for what we do always has to be love.”
Recently, Blossom Hill shared this love through collaborating with a few other Mennonite communities around the country to raise an almost $12,500 bail fee to help release a Nicaraguan woman from a detention center so she can work on her asylum case.
There are many issues that remain for the Church to address including a fractured denomination and a decline in numbers in many congregations. Some aspects of how we “do church” will need to die or be remolded. The good news, however, is that Christ promises that his body will do more than survive. We live in an era of (constant) change and must continue to adapt the “how” of loving our world, meeting its needs in dynamic ways, and making disciples. ACC congregations, each with its own unique identity and vision, continue to embrace and bring about the upside down Kingdom.