Photo: Bryan Moyer Suderman, Stouffville, Ontario, led Pastors Week sessions at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., Jan. 25-28.
Over 170 pastors, church leaders and lay learners came together at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., Jan. 25-28, around the theme, “The Bible Says What? Discovering Scripture Anew in Jesus’ Company.”
Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, AMBS Dean of Lifelong Learning, gave the opening address titled, “In the Right Doses.” Bryan Moyer Suderman, an itinerant Bible teacher from Stouffville, Ontario, who is also an Anabaptist singer-songwriter, led sessions Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
Gingerich Longenecker highlighted widespread confusion in the church about what to do with the Bible, but implored listeners not to “put the Bible on the shelf.” She contrasted the counter-cultural, life-giving nature of the biblical story with popular dead-end narratives, and invited pastors to consider how they might “reclaim the biblical story in a way that expresses its non-coercive claim to truth.” She called attention to the potential of in-depth Bible study using scholarly tools “in the right doses for congregational contexts” to shed light on the Bible and to help bring people together around it.
Moyer Suderman focused on stories from the Gospel of Mark, showing Jesus’ use of Old Testament scriptures in his dealings with a variety of people. Through word, song and group interaction, Moyer Suderman helped participants observe the discernment processes going on in various strands of Old Testament discussion, and showed how they emerge in Jesus’ use of Scripture in the book of Mark.
Moyer Suderman offered a “mapping” process for looking at the Gospels, including asking, “Where are we? Who is talking to whom? Where do we see [Old Testament] Scripture coming into play? What do we notice about how Scripture is being used here? Are there patterns? What might this say to us?”
As Pastors Week participants discovered New Testament conversations about faithfulness, they were reminded that engagement with and discernment around Scripture is the church’s ongoing task and responsibility.
Moyer Suderman’s original song, “Wrestling with the Scriptures,” became an informal theme song for the week, pointing to the continuing task of “wrestling with each other, wrestling to be heard, wrestling with the scriptures, wrestling with the Word.” Likewise, his song “I’m Glad You’re Here,” struck a chord as it called listeners to value the presence of others with whom they disagree, even in midst of scriptural debates.
Throughout the week, worship leaders Malinda Berry, assistant professor of theology and ethics at AMBS, and Rebecca Slough, academic dean, invited guests to “turn the text” by offering midrash-inspired reflections on the Scripture passage for the day. These dramatic interpretations, original vocal and piano pieces and spoken reflections challenged participants to see the text through multiple perspectives.
“It was a privilege to be a part of Pastors Week at AMBS. I wasn’t sure what to expect since this was my first time attending,” said Marisa Smucker, church relations associate for Mennonite Mission Network. “What I experienced was worship that used all my senses; opportunity to relate to pastors, leaders, professors and students; and a prodding and a challenge to go deeper and further in my faith journey.”
“Pastor’s week was a chance to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, debate Scripture, sing, worship and pray together; what could be better?” said Doug Unrau of Lowe Farm (Manitoba) Bergthaler Mennonite Church.
For Charlotte Lehman, pastor of Reba Place Church in Evanston, Ill., Longenecker’s research about pastors passing on a love of Scripture to their communities made an impact.
“It was inspiring to hear that all of us can likely improve in this area, if we focus on those strategic traits that Jewel found were common to her study participants,” said Lehman. “This was one of the most valuable Pastor’s Weeks that I have yet attended.”