The Evana Network, a group of congregations that launched in Oct. 2015, is growing. As of Feb. 20, 16 congregations, representing around 3100 regular attendees and 109 church leaders, have joined the Network. Thirteen of the congregations are former Mennonite Church USA congregations.
According to Evana leadership, they are in conversation with over 50 other groups about possible affiliation in the future.
“Essentially these are churches that we’ve had at least some kind of conversation with, but that are at various stages,” said John Troyer, Evana executive director, in a Feb. 23 phone interview. “Some are making a decision in the next few weeks. Others are early in the conversation, but have indicated at least a trajectory of joining at some level.”
Evana has three levels of affiliation: membership, provisional partnership and full partnership. Individuals can also join Evana without a congregation. To join, congregations must sign a congregational covenant and all core congregational leadership—pastors and members of the congregation’s governing body—must sign Evana’s personal covenant.
The covenant names the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective as the organization’s guiding theological document and includes a list of shared beliefs that congregations and leaders sign on to. Included in the list are commitments to,
- “Embrace sexual wholeness and reserve sexual activity for holy matrimony, a covenant between one male and one female for life, and refrain from supporting other sexual activity or practice;”
- “Express faith in ways that help others to know God through Jesus Christ;”
- “Adapt to different cultural and social environments with sensitivity to the local community regarding appearance, conduct, values, and traditions.”
To join as full partners, congregations are required to make a bylaw change that requires core leaders to sign Evana’s personal covenant.
According to Troyer, Evana’s focus will be on congregational and community revitalization, beginning by forming regional networks of several congregations to participate in a community mapping process led by Evana staff.
“We name and identify extensive information about the community that congregations are in and identify the points of brokenness,” said Troyer. “These churches that are part of a regional network go through process of prayer and discernment with their whole church. Out of that, they’ll be developing a strategy or emphasis as they reach into the community and work at being a healing presence.”
For Don Hamsher, pastor at Walnut Creek Mennonite Church in Sugar Creek, Ohio, this coaching and support for congregations looking to engage their community was one thing that drew their congregation to Evana.
In a Feb. 25 interview, Hamsher noted that the congregational covenant and “common ground” they found with Evana’s beliefs were also a big draw.
“It was a new vision or a direction that brought energy,” said Hamsher. “We are a very traditional Mennonite church with ties to Ohio Conference and to MCUSA [Mennonite Church USA]. That wasn’t taken lightly. I never really sensed this move was ‘anti’ anything. I didn’t want to leave MCUSA if that was the reason. But when the congregation heard the new vision thought about the signing of a covenant, it was a great thing.”
Evana hosted its second official event, a retreat for pastors, spouses and ministry leaders, in Lake Placid, Fla., Feb. 28-March 3. As of Feb. 25, 109 people were registered to attend.