What if a diverse bunch of Mennonites and Amish got together for a faith-building vacation on a cruise ship?
It’s not hypothetical. The Sail and Sing Cruise has been happening each year since 2012, when Ryan Bomgardner of Lancaster, Pa., got the idea.
This year’s voyage was to Alaska in June. About 650 people took part.
“Everybody goes on vacation to refresh and relax,” Bomgardner said. “What if we put together a vacation for people to come back spiritually refreshed, as well as honor our heritage?”
A ventriloquist and pastor, Bomgardner had performed with Christian cruises for several years, working with other Christian performing artists. He thought of the many Mennonite musicians and performers he knew and decided to organize an event on a cruise ship featuring as many of them as he could get.
“Nobody thought this was going to be anything,” said Bomgardner, associate pastor at Metzler Mennonite Church in Ephrata, Pa. “None of us woke up and thought, ‘We’re going to start a Mennonite cruise every year.’ ”
He spread the word to several Mennonite performers, artists and entertainers, and they publicized the Sail and Sing Cruise wherever they performed.
More than 400 people, mostly from Amish and Mennonite groups, took the 2012 trip.
Bomgardner said they loved it.
“[The other people on the ship] were looking around at all these Amish, and asked, ‘What is this; Amish spring break?’ ” he said. After he relayed that comment to the assembled group, he said they laughed uproariously. “Some of the girls got T-shirts printed that said ‘Sail and Sing 2012: Amish spring break.’ ”
Steve Stutzman has gone on every cruise since 2012. He’s been singing in churches and prisons with his wife, Dorcas, and their children since 2000. The family has been devoted to full-time ministry on the road since 2007.
Originally from Keota, Iowa, and now living in Lancaster, Pa., the Stutzman Family Singers began sharing songs after experiencing what Steve Stutzman describes as liberation from “spiritual attachments that were negative.”
A new passion for sharing the gospel led their family into visiting churches and prisons to share their story with songs and Scripture recitation.
Stutzman — who attends Life Fellowship Church, a Biblical Mennonite Alliance congregation in Willow Street, Pa. — met Bomgardner when they happened to be booked at the same event. They continued to cross paths, performing in the same venues.
Stutzman initially was reluctant to perform on the cruise when Bomgardner asked him, but he was impressed by the diversity of Anabaptists represented and the opportunities for spiritual revival.
“People will come on these cruises for the entertainment or the experience who seriously need help,” he said. “They don’t know where to find it in their communities, and sometimes they don’t know they need it.”
Stutzman believes it’s good for people from various Anabaptist groups to interact and hear some spiritual perspectives they might never hear in their home churches.
“People who would never step outside of their own circle come on [the cruise], and suddenly they’re exposed to people presenting the gospel to them,” he said. “They weren’t thinking about that when they signed up. They look around them and see the people around them are experiencing something they don’t know anything about.”
Stutzman said the most powerful events for attendees were people sharing their own stories of life’s trials and how they overcame them with God’s help. For some, it’s an experience of the gospel in a fresh way, or of spiritual healing.
The next Sail and Sing Cruise is planned for Feb. 11-18, 2018, in the Caribbean. Another is being planned for 2019 tracing the journeys of the Apostle Paul.