This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Dialoguing with the Mennonites

For the past two years I have been dialoguing pretty seriously with Anabaptist communities. It seems like half of my speaking engagements are with African American congregations while the other half are Anabaptist, especially Mennonite. This may not seem strange at first, but given that I wasn’t raised Anabaptist or Mennonite and that I do not currently attend an Anabaptist congregation, it does seem a bit odd. So, what is my interest with the Mennonite Church anyway?

Drew Hart
Drew Hart

My abbreviated and highly selective story:
I was raised in Norristown, PA (a small urban community in greater metro Philadelphia), and my faith was formed in a non-denominational African American church. Wanting to pursue Biblical Studies in state, I randomly applied to a school two hours away called Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. There I got my first (very light) introduction to Anabaptism which I had never heard of prior to that. While I certainly wouldn’t have called myself an Anabaptist when I graduated, I had begun to adopt what some might consider core Anabaptist tenets. After much struggle and tension over how to read the Bible in a consistent fashion without just cherry picking the text randomly like a flat book, I began adopting Jesus’ life and teachings as the lens through which to read scripture. Along with that I began adopting a degree of peace theology but probably was more of a pragmatic pacifist (though I never used the term pacifist to describe my faith).

In my last semester at Messiah, Woody Dalton, the senior pastor at Harrisburg Brethren in Christ Church sought me out and met with me on campus about a youth pastor position that had just opened up in their community. Our main conversation centered on their ministry of racial reconciliation, not Anabaptism. Prior to accepting the job after graduation I did affirm that I had a peace theology but that certainly was not the draw or the purpose of me joining the community.

While there, along with working with the youth, I was highly invested in the discussions and decisions being made concerning the racial reconciliation ministry. While attending I never self-identified myself as Anabaptist. However, Woody Dalton was truly an Anabaptist, which is a rare find these days in the BIC denomination. Likewise, I had the pleasure of building relationships in the church with a variety of folks that would have considered themselves Anabaptists as well (though that was not a term being used a lot in our community).

After three years of ministry I decided to enroll in Biblical Seminary’s newly renovated urban MDiv program, commuting back and forth to Philly for the first semester. Simultaneously, my wife Renee and I had just gotten engaged. We decided to move back to Philly which allowed us to be closer to my school and to our families, and fortunately an opening on the pastoral team of my home church had just been announced to me at the same time.

One of the strangest things about me not identifying as an Anabaptist at either Messiah College or Harrisburg Brethren in Christ Church was that I only began to call myself Anabaptist once I got back home. I think I began to realize the deep ways that I had been formed within Christian community that I didn’t account for until I left it. In seminary back home, I now found myself learning alongside folks from sister churches that knew me and my peoples. I didn’t think like them anymore, at least not fully. I needed to describe the formation that had taken place and to be true to who I was. I was an Anabaptist.

Immediately following college, the only books I was interested in reading was Black theology, racial reconciliation, and critical race theory books. The closest thing to an Anabaptist book that I had read (as an assigned reading at Messiah) was Mere Discipleship by Lee Camp. So I mostly articulated an understanding of Anabaptism centered out of my experience in community and the little bits and pieces of history I had learned from Messiah.

In the second half of my MDiv program I finally picked up Yoder’s popular and influential The Politics of Jesus. From there forward I would begin engaging various Anabaptist writers and thinkers, supplementing my organic Anabaptist formation with some helpful language that flowed out of historic Anabaptist streams.

I also ran into Nes Espinosa and Amy Yoder at different times in Philly, and both of them invited me to check out Kingdom Builders monthly gatherings for urban Anabaptists. Through that space as well as through other Mennonite connections like Steve Kriss, I began engaging Mennonites more frequently. I eventually found myself preaching at urban, suburban, and rural Mennonite congregations. While some of these engagements were several years ago, the majority of them have been over the past two years.

Basically, my regular engagement with Mennonites is directly related to my pursuing a PhD in theology and ethics, writing at the intersection of Anabaptism and Black theology. Along with that I joined the growing #MennoNerds blog collective which only increased my dialogue partners and friends in the larger Anabaptist community.

So, here I am now, contributing to The Mennonite.

It is a bit strange, and yet, it makes sense. The Mennonite Church is far from perfect, and yet I see the possibility for creative transformations to take place. My belief is that the Mennonite Church could do well to be formed by Black theology and to live in solidarity with historically oppressed communities in our society, while taking special attention to rid itself of white hegemony and anti-black sentiments. This will help keep Anabaptism from becoming nothing more than a dominant cultured and socially advantaged discourse and way of life. Instead Anabaptism can realign its life to something more Jesus-shaped in mode and manner. So here I am and looking forward to dialoguing.

If you would like to, you can also follow me on Twitter: @DruHart or on Facebook:

Drew Hart

Drew Hart is a PhD candidate at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa, thinking, writing, and living at the intersection Read More

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!