Inspired by a series of dialogues that began last year in Switzerland, Mennonites and Reformed Church members in Argentina are building reconciliation by cooperating on projects.
World Communion of Reformed Churches and Mennonite World Conference began a series of dialogues to strengthen ties between the two groups after almost five centuries of estrangement.
“Reformed and Anabaptist are branches of the same tree,” said Swiss Mennonite historian Hanspeter Jecker at the beginning of this process.
From the moment dialogues began in Europe, Mennonite and Reformed communities in Argentina began to think about organizing a united front that could shape the common desire for embracing service to a suffering and hurting world in need of God’s healing grace.
The groups already had experience working together with ecumenical groups such as Latin American Council of Churches and Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights. That cooperation accelerated when the two bodies founded Evangelical Social Pastoral with Pentecostal and Waldensian communities.
“Our connection in the framework of the Evangelical Social Pastoral offered us the opportunity to get to know each other better, to value what each one of the communities is doing in fidelity to the liberating gospel of Jesus,” said Reformed Pastor Gerardo Oberman. “And we began to collaborate with each other in what could enhance community service in places where each one testifies to their concrete faith, in concrete deeds, in gestures of love.”
The churches worked together on human rights, freedom of worship and faith formation workshops at the beginning of the year, but then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.
Suddenly the faith communities were called to make service to the most vulnerable people their emphasis. Anabaptist-Mennonite Church of Buenos Aires and Argentine Reformed Church worked together on food assistance programs as shutdowns took an economic toll.
Luis María Alman Bornes, a member of Anabaptist-Mennonite Church of Buenos Aires’ Pastoral Council, said the dialogues initiated by leaders of confessional families must take place on the ground where each congregation operates.
“We have been challenged to fraternal cooperation with our Reformed brothers and sisters,” said Alman Bornes, “materializing that famous phrase by Menno Simons, ‘True evangelical faith . . . cannot remain asleep; but it is manifested in all justice and works of love.’ ”
Although COVID-19 diminished the ability of the groups to pursue some projects and activities, it also offered an easy way to collaborate on online worship services.
Encouraged by the Crearte Network, people from various Latin America denominations and countries overcame barriers and prejudices to worship through redcrearte.org.ar, a liturgical network created some years ago by Oberman and others that today allows Mennonite and Reformed communities to worship in a same spirit.
“We are encouraged in this corner of the planet by the Mennonite and Reformed communities,” Alman Bornes said. “Undoubtedly, the best path toward reconciliation is service and solidarity in action.”