Photo: Karla Minter, left, Hilda Zapata Palacios, Sally Schreiner Youngquist and William Fitzgerald in conversation during the Sent 2018 church planters conference in Chicago. Photo by David Fast.
There’s a movement building in Mennonite Church USA. It’s diverse, multicultural and energized to take the church to new places. Nearly 100 leaders from across Mennonite Church USA gathered May 4-6 at Living Water Community Church in Chicago for the third annual SENT conference. Sponsored by Mennonite Mission Network and Everence, the conference focused on lessons that can be gleaned from established congregations and on new approaches to church life that are emerging to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
The SENT gatherings are a collaborative effort birthed in 2015 through a dialogue between church planters, coaches and Mennonite Mission Network church planting staff. Since 2016, annual SENT events have gathered missional entrepreneurs and church planters connected to Mennonite Church USA.
SENT 2018 featured plenary speakers, seminars and sessions of worship and prayer. Mennonite Mission Network executive director Stanley W. Green opened the event with a meditation on the early church depicted in Acts and the vigor that new believers injected into the movement.
Glen Guyton, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, said he appreciated the energy of the conference.
“I’m excited about the passion I see in Mennonite Mission Network and the participants here,” said Guyton. “We have a great opportunity as a church to build on our historic peace position.”
The location of the conference reinforced the idea that planting churches is an important part of God’s mission. Living Water Community Church was started by members of Reba Place Fellowship in 1995. Today, it is an ethnically diverse congregation with multiple ties to the neighborhood and avenues of outreach and service.
“It was an honor for Living Water to host SENT 2018,” said pastor Kristin Jackson. She explained that it felt like a gift to connect with Mennonite sisters and brothers from around the country, since the church has few members with historic personal connections to the broader Mennonite world. “I was inspired to participate in, and witness others engaging in, good conversations, worship, teaching, meals and prayers with others who have been sent to the world to be a kingdom presence.”
Living Water was also special to Everence.
“Everence helps people and churches integrate their faith and finances. Here at Living Water, there was an opportunity for Everence to support their ministry years ago. To see how that has enabled this wonderful church to thrive in so many ways is a blessing,” said Leonard Dow, stewardship and development specialist for Everence Financial.
Mauricio Chenlo, Mennonite Mission Network minister for church planting, presented a draft version of a new plan to recruit and train church planters. He announced that “by December 2018, the Mission Network website will be expanded to include this resource and provide a forum for church planters to connect with each other.”
Chenlo and Sandy Miller, director of church relations, were the primary coordinators of the SENT 2018 conference.
Conference participants appreciated the combination of fellowship and resourcing that SENT provided.
“I affirm the SENT event,” said Sandra Montes-Martinez, interim moderator for Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church). “It is a great initiative to gather information and ignite others in the church-planting arena. We need room to get more equipped for church planting.”
Paula Snyder Belousek, pastor at Salem Mennonite Church in Lima, Ohio, attended with the hope to take back inspiration to Ohio Mennonite Conference, which is working at expanding their vision of what it means to be the church, particularly in rural contexts.
“It was invigorating to hear about what God is doing in Mennonite church plants across the USA, and to think about how we can apply what we heard in our own context,” said Snyder Belousek. “I went away feeling encouraged by the ways the Spirit of God is at work throughout Mennonite Church USA.”