God’s Favorite?

Are Anabaptists God’s favorite children? Probably not. However, our heavenly parent loves us so unconditionally that it can be tempting to believe we must be. What divine parenting! Even if we’re not God’s favorites, God does work in and through us. Anabaptism is the spiritual stream I swim in and therefore an essential part of my approach to faith formation.

I understand Anabaptist faith formation as a lifelong process of walking with, and being shaped by, Jesus and his Anabaptist church family.

What is an Anabaptist Christian? Missio Dei 18

What is an Anabaptist Christian? Missio Dei 18

This includes holding on to (Palmer Becker’s short definition):

  • Jesus as the centre of our faith
  • Community as the centre of our life
  • Reconciliation as the centre of our mission

We believe the life of faith and belief is to be carefully discerned and freely chosen. Until we are mature enough to do so, we believe the blood of Jesus saves us and covers our tendency toward sinfulness. Menno Simons articulated this position on the ‘complex innocence of children’ to counter Augustine’s theory of original sin and oppose the need for infant baptism. He did so to deal with the challenges of faithful living in his setting.

Today’s Practical Theologian, Bonnie Miller McLemore (also Believer’s Church, but not Anabaptist), responds to our current setting by stressing the importance of inaugurating children into the vocabulary and practices of being Christian. This means including them fully in the key rituals of the life of faith. That, in turn, raises questions for some of our traditional Anabaptist faith practices, particularly communion and membership.

Anabaptists believe, with other Christians, that wherever we are on the journey of faith, God has a place for us. We consider our unbaptized children precious parts of the family of God; we embrace their place in and contributions to our worship life, but we have not considered them part of the body of Christ before they reach the age of discernment and freely confess Christ and join the church through baptism.

Communion, one of our most holy and formative rituals, has moved from being observed in closed, semi-annual services to become a more frequent part of our Sunday morning worship. This change has made us struggle to find ways of opening the Table of our Lord to those who are part of the family of God, but haven’t joined the body of Christ by confessing their faith and requesting baptism.

These days, that includes more than the children. The society we live in immerses even our youth in a process of individuation, individualism, and exploration, even while indoctrinating them toward an accomplishment glorifying consumer culture. At the same time, the church calls them to commit themselves to a counter-cultural, community focused, body of believers through baptism. Do you sense the tension?

As we age, we inevitably encounter more of life’s difficulties and crises, whether or not we are Anabaptist. If we navigate those within the community of faith, practicing disciplines of reconciliation, centered on Jesus and committed to our faith community, we will weather these storms. We will increasingly sense God’s presence with us in our pain, nudging us toward the redemptive possibilities God sees in our communal brokenness as well as in our personal crises. Faith will become more muscular and gracious; more capable of handling life’s ambiguities, paradoxes, and uncertainties. We will become more aware of Jesus, our companion on the way, in whom we also find the End of our journey.

Today, people can expect to live for 20 to 30 years beyond 65. This last third of life is full of more transitions than any other, many of them downward transitions in which identity in Christ and in the Christian community face challenges and yet the only one of them we mark well as a faith community is our death. How are Anabaptists responding to these challenges and opportunities? Whether we are children, youth, midlife, older adults, or seniors, our lifelong journeys of walking with, and being shaped by, Jesus and his Anabaptist church family are worth walking, and worth marking in ways that help us and the world we live in see that we are headed toward God’s kingdom, on earth, as it is in heaven.

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Elsie Rempel, Formation Consultant ministries with Mennonite Church Canada 2002–15, now exploring retirement.

Why Anabaptist Curriculum Matters

  • A young child, upon hearing the story of an indigenous child’s experience of residential schools, shows compassion. Having recently heard stories of reconciliation in scripture, he immediately begins to imagine ways to repair relationship and seek the best for everyone.
  • A young woman studying systematic theology approaches biblical study using language and a hermeneutical lens incredibly consistent with that of her childhood Sunday school curriculum – “I wonder…”
  • Adult students in a theology class on the atonement struggle to release harmful or unsound teachings from Vacation Bible School, even when presented with compelling evidence to the contrary.
  • A middle-aged woman who experienced childhood sexual abuse takes decades to seek healing and develop a new God concept other than the one she was presented with in Sunday school –  one that kept her bound in silence in order to be a “nice girl.”
  • A Mennonite Church, after decades of using non-Anabaptist curriculum, is surprised to find that they no longer embrace a theology of non-violence and reconciliation.

I was asked to write a bit about why I believe Anabaptist faith formation is important, particularly in relation to curriculum. But I share these brief vignettes primarily to make the point that how we nurture our children and youth matters. The theology that we impart to children and youth has lasting impact.

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When discussing curriculum, the primary importance of Anabaptist faith formation is for the ongoing embodiment of an Anabaptist expression of faith in the kingdom of God.

And if you want to continue to be an Anabaptist congregation, you will need to nurture children and youth in the way of Anabaptism. 

I’m not saying that youth and adults can’t be introduced to new concepts later in life and come to embrace them. What I am saying is that curriculum, both hidden and open, shapes us in profound ways. This is both exciting and sobering; exciting because it presents us with so many opportunities to form lasting faith in young people and sobering because it means we must do so with care and intention.

Not all curricula are clear about the lens through which they are approaching the life of faith. In fact, many are intentionally vague in order to appeal to a larger audience. This means we need to pay careful attention to that which is both explicit and implicit in the materials we choose. As Anabaptists it means seeking curriculum that is grounded in the person and mission of Jesus, values the marginalized and oppressed, seeks peace and reconciliation with all people – not just “our” people,  and allows children and youth space to explore and choose to follow, rather than being manipulated or coerced.

This doesn’t mean we must only choose explicitly Anabaptist materials, but that the materials we use actually seek to nurture faith in ways that are consistent with the church we truly want to be in the world.

For help with curating your congregation’s curriculum through an Anabaptist lens, use MennoLens, a rubric to help you navigate the hidden curriculum/theology present.

 

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Carrie Martens is Pastor of Faith Formation at Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church (Kitchener, ON). As a passionate consumer and teller of stories, Carrie loves helping people connect their story to God’s story in the context of life-long faith formation. She has enjoyed contributing to the Shine curriculum as a content editor, leading faith formation workshops, seeing the Bible come alive for young adults while grading Intro Bible for CMU, and participating on the planning committee for Deep Faith: Anabaptist faith formation for all ages to be hosted by AMBS in the Fall of 2016. While having spent formative years at CMU and AMBS, Carrie will still tell you that the questions and curiosity of the three-year-old’s in her early days of teaching Sunday School have shaped her faith in a profound way.

 

Anabaptist Youth Ministry:  Why it Matters. 

 

Discipleship-oriented and Intergenerationally-blessedthis is my perception of Anabaptist youth ministry and why it matters.

The first point, discipleship-oriented, illustrates the ongoing “faithing” venture we embark on as we follow after Jesus striving to expose and live into God’s reign. Faith, a dynamic, evolving process is not merely a set of objective beliefs to be mastered, but is the activity of discovering meaning for our lives based on our Jesus-centered understandings. The Greek word used in the New Testament for “faith” has an “-ing” feel to it. It is as much a verb (“faithing”) as it is a noun (“faith”). Constantly moving, bubbling up, and taking in the world around us while striving to faithfully live.

“Faithing” describes well the dynamic journey of many college students straining to make sense of new experiences and ideas while reconciling those with previous convictions. Faith is not something “lost” when one is unsure about their beliefs, it embraces the questioning, the doubting, and the skepticisms that many college students undergo.

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “As you are going, make disciples…” An Anabaptist discipleship-oriented endeavor responds to the needs and blessings of the world we inhabit as if we are God’s sacred hands and feet. It reaches to the heavens yearning to more deeply know God as we go about our daily lives. Praying, probing, singing, being disturbed, wrestling, waiting, running, sitting, contemplating, navigating—all while pursuing guidance from the Spirit—typifies the faithing journey of discipleship.bob

Anabaptist youth ministry is not content with “simple, right answers” that do not satisfy life’s complex realities. It does not belittle the scope of God’s salvation. Instead, we persistently look to Jesus wondering what he would have us do, posturing ourselves in prayerful obedience, drinking in God’s replenishing water, and resting in the knowledge that we are not God. A liberating concept to a faith stream bent, at times, on lugging the burdens of a “Messiah complex.”

The second point, intergenerationally-blessed, characterizes most Mennonite churches. Though some larger congregations might have specialized pastoral job descriptions focused solely on youth and younger adults, the “burden” of youth ministry falls on all adults to serve as youth sponsors, mentors, Sunday school teachers, behind-the-scenes-supporters, and so forth. By virtue of our smallness, young people regularly rub shoulders with all kinds of adults…what a blessing!

Studies demonstrate that our youth’s faithing vitality mirrors those of the adults in their lives, particularly their parents. So if those adults are not fervently living into their own faithing journeys, then a cold or lukewarm faith basically yields no impact. But a hot faith is readily adopted by younger people!

Having walked directly with younger people for over twenty years, I continue to be impressed as they reach out to adults further along in their own faithing journeys with an eagerness to learn and explore together. This is especially fun to be part of in my college ministry context where younger adults are at a critical hinge point in their lives. And then, it is awesomely rewarding to reconnect with these fabulous disciples years later to hear what all they are up to.

Anabaptist youth ministry matters to me because, though not perfect, it authentically strives to carry out Jesus’s words, “As you are going, make disciples…” across generations.

Bob Yoder

 

 

Bob Yoder has served in ministry for over 20 years in congregational, camp, conference and college settings. Currently, he is in his 11th year as campus pastor at Goshen College, where he had also taught as Assistant Professor of Youth Ministry. Bob is author of Helping Youth Grieve: The Good News of Biblical Lament, editor of A History of Mennonite Youth Ministry, 1885-2005 and Youth Ministry at a Crossroads: Tending to the Faith Formation of Mennonite Youth, and other professional essays and popular articles. Bob lives in Goshen, Indiana with his wife, Pamela, and children, Josiah and Mira. He enjoys running on the Millrace and biking the Pumpkinvine.

 

Mennonite Youth in the None-Zone

Every couple years I do a series on Anabaptist history and theology to familiarize the older teens in my congregation with their forebears in faith and the theology that they passed down.  When we came to the lesson on Anabaptist principles, like commitment to the gospel of non-violence, allegiance to Christ, the priesthood of all believers and Christian community and simplicity in living, one young woman piped up at one point with something like, “We know all this stuff already.  After all, we go here, don’t we?  We hear it all the time.”

On the one hand I was a little deflated: So what am I teaching this for then?  One the other hand I was delighted: They’re getting it!  We don’t have a large youth group and in a city where every kid goes to a different school and they live up to an hour away from each other we aren’t able to meet often outside of Sunday morning Sunday school.

I have to trust that these young folks are picking up something through worship and community life not just youth group meetings.

The northwest has been called the ‘None-Zone’ by statisticians.  That is, when asked on a census which religion one affiliates with, the northwest has the highest number of folks who check the box “None.”  Many of the youth who come to Seattle Mennonite Church with their families do not have other friends outside of the congregation who would even identify as Christian, never mind Mennonite. amy1

So while in Seattle it is not unusual for citizens to question warring or unjust practices of government or to serve their community, be globally minded, it is almost never in the context of following Jesus, whose message is peace and whose love is for the whole world.  And in a city (and for the most part a congregation) that is very well-educated, well paid, and technologically savvy it is unusual to encounter folks – particularly other teens – who are seeking to consume less, have greater investment in personal relationships and who advocate for those who do not have the advantages and wealth with which many of us are privileged.

It is only in the context of their Mennonite congregation and families – including youth Sunday school, occasional service projects, mentoring, camp, worship and fellowship events – that the young people in my congregation have the opportunity to learn about and be exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is only here that they can hear the call of Jesus in their own lives and to see and hear the way other people of faith – both adults and peers – are struggling with and taking up that calling. amy3

 

I have often wondered how much influence and pull church has over young people in the face of so much competition.

But I trust that God’s Spirit is at work in each of them and I know that as children of God, they will always live in God’s love and welcome no matter what box they or their neighbors check on the census.

 

Amy Epp

 

 

Amy Marie Epp is pastor at Seattle Mennonite Church.

Why ‘Anabaptist’ Youth Ministry Matters

In this webinar, Michele Hershberger, Bible & Religion Professor at Hesston College (KS), shares seven distinctives of Anabaptist theology and practice that inform how we do youth ministry.  With easy-to-use hooks, Michele describes how Anabaptist youth ministry is different from other faith traditions through our distinct lens in which we view:  the Bible, Jesus, the Church, power, love, service, and witness. If you are looking for specific ways to articulate Anabaptist theology and how it is infused in your practice (versus just through intuition), this webinar is an excellent primer taking us back to what really matters.

tGP interview with Michael Novelli–How To Get Youth To Experience The Bible

In this tGP podcast interview, Rachel interviews Michael Novelli, author, instructor, long time youth worker, and Church of the Brethren go’er about how to engage youth with the Bible.  For more than two decades Michael’s passion has been to explore the intersection of spiritual formation and experiential learning. This drive continues to fuel his work as a content designer, church youth leader, and community advocate. Michael has a M.Ed. in Integrated Learning, and is an adjunct instructor at North Park University. He creates learner-centered resources and experiences for youth, children and adults.

Michael is the author of two books, Shaped By the Story:  Discover the Art of Bible Storytelling and Enter the Story: 7 Experiences to Unlock Your Students.  Michael is also the writer/creator of SparkHouse youth curriculum, and talks with The Gathering Place about ways to engage your students in new ways of seeing the Story, as their story.

 

#WeAreMenno

 

At the last youth convention in Kansas City, there was a wall titled “#WeareMenno” with photos of participants from convention. It was a way to display the different faces of Mennonites. Our group from Allentown, PA is predominantly people of color (Karen, Nepali, Puerto Rican, and Indian) and so it was interesting that 3 out of 8 from our group made it on the wall. Our small group helped to show that there is racial diversity in MC USA.

Our youth were very excited when they saw their picture on the wall, but I doubt that excitement was because they were identified as Mennonites in MC USA.

danilo1

As youth pastor, I often find myself wrestling with the question,

“How important is it for my youth to identify as Mennonite?”

In Allentown, the majority of the youth group come from little to no church background. So for the most part, I’m working on the basics of the Christian faith and how we are called to live as followers of Jesus. And as is the case for most millennials, labels or ties with institutions is not very important. So in my context, it does not always feel relevant to explain Anabaptist history or Mennonite church structure. Those two topics do not feel so important to them. Now with that being said, I certainly teach from an Anabaptist perspective. I emphasize a commitment to non-violence, peace and justice, serving others, serious discipleship to Jesus, and the centrality of God’s Word in our life. So while the youth may not fully understand Anabaptism or would call themselves Mennonite, the faith they are learning is deeply rooted in the Anabaptist tradition. Ultimately, I do not measure my success on how good of an Anabaptist/Mennonite my youth are, but how serious they follow the call to discipleship by Jesus. So if my youth don’t adopt the label of Mennonite, but do have a faith that expresses the core convictions of Anabaptists, then I’m ok with that.

danilo2So while our youth are perhaps unknowingly formed by Anabaptism, the way we express being Mennonite looks different than suburban Mennonite churches with a stronger connection to the local conference or who has a longer church history. For us, serving others is about community. We want to build relationships in our neighborhoods and better our community. We have served meals at the Allentown Rescue Mission which is housing for homeless men, we work in our community garden, or do street cleaning. We don’t need to travel to other states or countries to serve others. For us, discipleship and community look like having a circle. This circle comes from restorative practices where you have a check-in question and share life together and close with a ritual. We may share scripture, but ultimately it’s about building community. We don’t have MYF or Wednesday Night Bible study, but in our circle we sharing each other’s lives we help each other follow Jesus more faithfully. We are still working on being committed to non-violence. Loving our enemies is hard for our Karen youth who know the history of their people and how they were forcibly removed from their home land. And for those who grew up in the city with the “I’ve got to be tough” mentality, it’s hard to break that mentality. But we continue to teach non-violence and how to resolve conflict with restorative practices. In our urban context, this is what serving others, discipleship, and commitment to non-violence means to us as Mennonites. In this way, we are very Anabaptist and part of the next generation of Mennonites in MC USA, even if my youth don’t know it.danilo3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

danilo

 

 

 

 

Danilo Sanchez lives with his wife Mary and two girls in Allentown, PA. He serves as the Lehigh Valley youth pastor and works with Whitehall, Ripple, and Vietnamese Gospel. He also works part-time for MCC as the Summer Service National Coordinator.

Welcome Back!

With the launch of The Gathering Place 2.0 season (we run September-May), I feel like it is the first day back to school! Here’s a sweet picture of sending my little one to preschool on his first day…
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There is just something about September.  The start of a new adventure.  The launching of new vision.  In our churches, we often have Sunday school kick offs.  We initiate incoming ninth graders into our youth groups.  We begin new sermon series.  We welcome new families to our community.

Likewise, The Gathering Place has some wonderful new additions and initiatives starting this year. We are closing down our current “Mennonite Church USA Youth Workers Facebook Group” to a *new* Facebook page called,”The Gathering Place.” Follow us on Twitter (@TheGathering777) and Instagram (@thegathering777).  And don’t forget to subscribe to get our monthly newsletter that gives you all the information at a glance. I digress…

I can think of no better way to begin a new year of resourcing, equipping, and connecting Anabaptist youth leaders together than by going back to our A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s.  Because sometimes we need a refresher.  Sometimes we need to go back to the beginning and remind ourselves why we do what we do.  As Anabaptists, we approach our faith and work in the world through a different lens. But the outlying question remains–how does this look different in our approach to youth group?  Is our youth group distinctly Anabaptist?

What makes how we approach faith formation unique from the mega-youth group down the road?

And why does this matter?   We want you to engage this month and emerge at the end feeling more confident in Anabaptist theology and rooted in your role.

Like Maria from the Sound of Music said, “…the beginning is a very good place to start!” so too, will we launch The Gathering Place 2.0 series with a monthly focus on Anabaptist Youth Ministry: Why It Matters.

Here’s what coming down the pike in September:

  • Each week, new blog posts will be posted.
  • We will have an extremely practical and informative webinar presented by Michele Hershberger.
  • Shana Peachey Boshart of the Anabaptist Faith Formation Network will be hosting our study circle along with Randy Keeler (professor of youth ministry at Bluffton University) on his article, “Anabaptist Youth Ministry.”
  • Sarah Ann Bixler, Ph.D. student at Princeton Seminar and former Virginia conference youth minister interviews Kenda Creasy Dean (leading scholar and professor of youth, culture and mission at Princeton) about the gift Anabaptism brings to youth ministry in tGP podcast.

Plus a whole lot more:

  • Kick-off playlist, “Tune My Heart” by Ashley Litwiller to energize and inspire you as you plan for your year ahead
  • “Life of the Menno,”a new podcast from Marito Dominguez, youth pastor in Miami, the show that’s bringing the urban ear closer to Christ. Real life stories lived to change lives.
  • “Word on the Street” initiative that gets your youth group in on the action
  • Connection circles–intentional small groups of network and connection
  • Encouraging word from Lesley and Caleb Francisco McClendon on their vlog, “All About YOUth”
  • Opportunity to deepen and expand your own personal (and congregation’s) spiritual formation with the Visual Faith Project

Told you. Lots of new stuff.

So, make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss out.  The gifts out there in the Church are just incredible. It’s such an honor for me to be able to amplify the amazing stuff going on.

After you have taken in your fill, I want you to join back together the last week of the month and join our “flipped classroom” learning circle.  flipped-classroom

We’ve received feedback that people want to talk, they want to reflect and debrief the month together.

So after you have the chance to watch/listen/read on your own time, sign-up to join the learning circle where we take an “Open Space” approach, asking what connected with you this month, what still gives you questions, share joys and challenges of how this translates into your youth group.

Ready to begin?

Let’s gather together!

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Rachel Gerber, denominational minister for youth and young adults Mennonite Church USA & editor of The Gathering Place

tGP Podcast Interview with Angela Gorrell

Do you wonder what impact social media is having on our churches? No matter where you fall on the “tech” line (do you inherently believe that adopting these practices are helpful or harmful or use with caution), the fact of the matter is—people are using it.  That’s the fact…often checking social media sites multiple times per day.  Folks are already engaging in this technology. So, how can we, as churches, use social media outlets as a tool to build a more connected community (that leads to person-to-person community) and grows faith formation throughout the week?

In this podcast, Angela Gorrell, adjunct professor and researcher at Fuller Theological and McCormick School of Theology shared her cutting edge research on church, social media, and faith formation.  Angela is inspiring, smart, and has fascinating information and practical suggestions about engaging the technology of this age and with our churches. I have no doubt that you’ll leave inspired as well.