Ervin Stutzman’s last day as executive director of Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) is April 30. I would like to thank him for his years of service to the Mennonite church.
Professional. I saw Ervin’s imprint on the Mennonite Educators Conference, which met Feb. 1-3 in Leesburg, Virginia. With hundreds of teachers and administrators in attendance, I noticed the MC USA staff and Mennonite Education Agency staff hard at work, facilitating our event. The executive director’s office certainly sets the tone and direction for such a large-scale event, which ultimately determines its success or failure.
Ervin has excelled as an executive in charge of denominational staff. For example, at the Mennonite Educators Conference, I met Kayla Berkey, the Mennonite Church USA news editor, and we had a cordial discussion about our denomination one evening over dinner. Later, I read her excellent summary of the conference on the denominational website. In the past eight years, Ervin has performed executive responsibilities that have enabled Mennonite Church USA to carry its kingdom ministries forward. Thanks, Ervin.
Preacher. At heart, it seems to me, Ervin is first and foremost a preacher. When he comes to my congregation in Broadway, Virginia, to preach, as he has many times, we hear a good sermon. Using a conversational style that he has perfected, Ervin launches into a heart sermon, without notes, that connects with us in the pews.
My family from northeast Ohio still has a positive memory of Ervin coming to our Conservative Mennonite Conference congregation, more than 40 years ago, when he was a young preacher in his twenties. Ervin’s doctorate in rhetoric and communication has created a synergy with his deep faith in God, it seems to me, which has made him the paramount preacher in the Mennonite church in recent years.
When Ervin taught preaching classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Virginia, his students learned to preach without notes. My pastor, in his thirties, comes into the pulpit with a skeleton outline, and launches into his sermon in a conversational style with the congregation, using a captivating method he learned in Ervin’s preaching classroom.
Personal. When the news editor for MC USA asked me if I knew Ervin, I smiled and said “yes,” and explained that my wife and I occasionally pass Ervin and Bonnie out walking when we exercise. About a decade ago, when my wife had major surgery in our Harrisonburg hospital, Bonnie came into the hospital room as a chaplain and offered early morning prayers before the operation.
Ervin keeps God first in his life. He has modeled a holistic ministry to me and others. Though he has traveled widely, Ervin regularly attends his home congregation, Park View Mennonite Church, in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Ervin has often attended the semiannual Virginia Mennonite Conference, and I have appreciated his candid and honest reports about issues and difficulties facing MC USA. I will miss his denominational reports in the future.
Ervin knows many people personally across MC USA. At the back door of church a few years ago, after he had preached, Ervin asked me why I hadn’t finished my Master of Divinity. I explained details to Ervin, and he listened attentively and long enough to learn that God had redirected my career toward Christian education 30 years ago.
I felt privileged to enter a resolution in the Virginia Conference minutes on Feb. 3, thanking Ervin for his service to the church as executive director. The delegates, meeting at Waynesboro Mennonite Church, Augusta County, Virginia, stood in applause to affirm the resolution. What the minutes probably won’t record were the tears streaming down the cheeks of the executive director when our conference moderator resumed regular business.
Elwood Yoder teaches history and Bible at Eastern Mennonite High School, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and attends Zion Mennonite Church, Broadway, Virginia.