Photo: Howard Wagler, pastor of Journey Mennonite Church, Kansas, and Nehemiah Chigoji, executive director of ARC and pastor of Upland (California) Peace Church. Photo by Hannah Heinzekehr.
The wind literally shook the walls of Journey Mennonite Church as Pastor Eric Miller told the story of the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost.
As a Kansas thunderstorm raged, 73 individuals gathered July 28-30 at the South Hutchinson, Kan., campus of Journey Mennonite Church for the fourth annual gathering of Anabaptist Renewal Circles. Miller, Journey campus pastor at the South Hutchinson location, exhorted participants to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to “be advocates for others and love people toward Jesus.” Miller contrasted a model for living alongside and loving people into relationship with Christ and into repentance and grace with congregations who “feel like it’s their job to cut people down.”
“The Holy Spirit sees individuals made in the image of God and that Christ died for,” said Miller. “The Holy Spirit of advocacy lives in the neighborhood and speaks the gospel in the language of the people.”
The theme of the weekend, “Beyond Borders,” focused on encouragement and equipping people to follow the nudgings of the Spirit beyond church walls. A theme song sung each day, “Spirit of the Living God,” focused on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit: “Because when you speak, and when you move, and when you do what only you can do, it changes us. It changes what we see and what we seek.”
Hugh Halter, U.S. Director of Forge America, an apprenticing network committed to missional training, spoke three times on July 29, focusing on skills for building missional communities: local church plants that focus on building relationships and community in a particular neighborhood rather than waiting for people to come to you. Halter and his family have begun missional communities in Portland and Denver and are currently church planting in Alton, Ill.
“We want people to be drawn to who we are,” said Halter. “The task is to disciple someone so they are growing from unbelief to belief in every aspect of their life.”
Halter emphasized that the mission field is no longer “out there” but here in the United States. He pointed to the rapid decline in church attendance in the United States over the last 40 years. “By 2020 to 2025, we’ll be 4 to 5 percent churched in America. Welcome to Samaria,” he said.
On July 30, Richard Showalter, global consultant with Rosedale Mennonite Missions, Columbus, Ohio, reminded participants that all ministry “is all about God” and praised churches of all shapes and sizes for their unique ministries. “This church of Jesus Christ is an absolutely amazing thing. It’s a global movement that has reached now today to every nation in the world,” he said.
Participants were commissioned and invited to write a word or phrase that captured their imagination on the soles of their shoes or on a keychain as a way to carry home what they learned.
ARC formed in 2011 following the Mennonite Church USA convention in Pittsburgh, after a group of pastors raised concerns about the prominent presence of Pink Menno, a movement for LGBTQ inclusion in Mennonite Church USA. According to Nehemiah Chigoji, ARC executive director and pastor of Upland (Calif.) Peace Church, the group now sees its mission as being “agents for revival” within Mennonite Church USA and among other Anabaptist groups.
Although the beginning plans for the Evana Network, a new network of Anabaptist congregations outside Mennonite Church USA, were laid during ARC’s January 2015 meeting in Hartville, Ohio, ARC’s leaders are all current members of MC USA and committed to finding ways to offer “spaces for spiritual revival” for Mennonite and Anabaptist pastors, both within and outside Mennonite Church USA. Besides Chigoji, the leadership team includes Sunoko Lin, pastor of Maranatha Christian Fellowship, Northridge, Calif.; Jeff Linthicum, pastor of First Mennonite Church, Berne, Ind.; and James Wenger, regional conference minister for South Central Mennonite Conference, Hesston, Kan.
Lin notes that—given the exit of three conferences, many who participated in previous ARC meetings, from Mennonite Church USA recently—ARC will have some reenvisioning and planning to do for the future.