Evana Network’s next executive director foresees the group broadening its tent and continuing a conversation among Mennonites and like-minded Anabaptists about how to collaborate.
The evangelical Anabaptist network of U.S. and Canadian churches announced the appointment of Matt Hamsher on Jan. 21. On May 1 he will replace John Troyer, who announced plans last summer to step down.
“I’m excited about . . . connections with a lot of — for lack of a better term — neo-Anabaptists, the more evangelically minded ones,” Hamsher said in an interview. “. . . The majority of our future growth is going to come not from traditional Mennonite churches — those leaving Mennonite Church USA, for example — but I think from independent congregations, pastors who are drawn to evangelical Anabaptist theology.”
Hamsher, who has chaired Evana’s board since the network began in 2015, is finishing his role as lead pastor at Longenecker Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship in Dundee, Ohio. The congregation was formerly known as Longenecker Mennonite Church, but selected its new name to more accurately reflect a congregational decision to leave MC USA.
Evana has grown to 45 member churches, mostly in a region stretching from Indiana to Pennsylvania and Ontario. It has formalized strategic partnerships with nearly a dozen mission and educational institutions, including Mennonite Brethren colleges, Virginia Mennonite Missions and Eastern Mennonite Missions.
Hamsher will share his vision for Evana’s future at Flourishing, an event for pastors and church leaders, Feb. 15-19 in Fruitland Park, Fla.
Desire to collaborate
While he sees a need to continue developing practices for good communication across Evana — while minimizing bureaucracy and keeping the structure as “flat” as possible — he’s more excited about continuing conversations with other evangelical Anabaptist groups.
In August, Evana met at Rosedale Bible College in Ohio with representatives from LMC (formerly Lancaster Mennonite Conference), U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, CMC (formerly Conservative Mennonite Conference), Brethren in Christ U.S. and The Brethren Church (an evangelical Brethren denomination).
“There’s no desire for us to merge or anything in a structural way,” Hamsher said in a Jan. 22 interview. “But we were encouraged by our first meeting and fellowship, and there was a desire to collaborate where we can.”
While the groups share significant affinity, there are key differences, both within Evana and among the other groups.
“As a network, we would ordain a woman to serve as a lead pastor in a congregation, and women serve on our board,” Hamsher said, noting differences on those matters exist among network members. “. . . But in many other ways we have so much in common.”
A wider umbrella
The term “evangelical Anabaptist” can mean different things to different people. Hamsher said it can present challenges in the current political and cultural climate, because it would be a mistake to equate Evana’s evangelicalism with fundamentalism.
“Anabaptism is in some ways a wider umbrella,” he said. “It may signal to some people not having the same amount of cultural baggage that is sometimes put on ‘Mennonite,’ so that is attractive in some ways.”
Evana also announced that Larissa Moore-Willard, vice chair of the Evana board, is replacing Hamsher as chair. A church planter and pastor of Victory Community Church in Solon, Ohio, she is known across the network for her prophetic gifts, commitment to prayer and love for the church.
“I’m going into this with God’s vision,” she said in an Evana release, “to lead the board and stay the course.”
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