Learning How to Rock with Black Mennonite Women

We—Shine Project Director Rose Stutzman, Shine Curriculum Editor Chrissie Walls, and Shine Managing Editor Rachel Nussbaum Eby—had the privilege of attending Central District Conference’s annual women’s conference entitled “Black Mennonite Women Rock!” Women across Mennonite Church USA were invited to come to Camp Friedenswald, September 12–14.

RetreatImage We wanted to go because it was an opportunity to learn from black women and celebrate our common humanity. The gift of this particular retreat was that it was planned and led by black women.

We danced together Friday evening.

Dancing(Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page. Chrissie is second from the left.)

Dancing2 (Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page. Rose is third from the left.)

We worked on a block for the identity quilt.

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(Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page.)

Worship

We worshiped together, with singing led by Dr. Crystal Y. Sellers Battle, assistant professor of music at Bluffton (Ohio) University. (Photo by Rachel Nussbaum Eby.)

We listened to some incredible speakers:

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Hyacinth Stevens, keynote speaker and co-pastor of King of Glory Tabernacle in the Bronx, New York (Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page.)

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Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, graphic designer and website specialist at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page.)

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Sarah Thompson, executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams (Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page.)

CyneathaMillsapsCyneatha Millsaps, pastor at Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois (Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page.)

We came to find out what we weren’t aware of before.

Someone asked me (Rose) “Did you hear anything new? Learn anything new?” My answer was that knowing something on an intellectual level is very different from letting the stories and experiences of black women wash over you.  I have been committed to anti-racism, but this weekend—filled with fun, worship, and stories—took that intellectual assent to a new level. The stories, voices, and gifts of these particular, beautiful women will stay in my heart.

ThemeQuiltQuilt made by Hively Avenue Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Indiana, and Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois, showing the history of African-Americans in the U.S. (Photo by Chrissie Walls.)

This retreat will impact our work as a Shine curriculum team. It deepened our commitment to sensitivity across color lines. When we write, we want to do so with care and humility knowing that each person’s life and story is a sacred trust. When we choose art and photos, we will be even more diligent in making a curriculum where all children can see themselves.

Images and language form children at a very young age. In Dark Girls, the documentary we watched during the retreat, we noticed just how early this can happen and were impressed with the importance of careful communication. We hope that Shine can be sensitive to the nuances of images and language. We want children of the next generation to know that all people are beloved children of God.

I (Rachel) knew that the color black often has negative connotations. The weekend made me even more aware of the pervasiveness of this idea, and together, Shine staff discussed ways to be more aware. We will handle the metaphor of light and darkness with even greater care. Dusk and evening can be a cool and comforting time. And darkness can be like a blanket, covering us and giving us rest.

I (Chrissie) witnessed openness to the movement of the Spirit. Women who came prepared to lead songs and share a particular message were able to remain open to God’s spirit moving in that particular time and situation. In curriculum we write a plan for Sunday school. We ask for God’s guidance when doing that. But we want people using the curriculum to be open to the Spirit as they use the curriculum in a particular time and space.

How have you been open to the Spirit when teaching Sunday school?

Rose, Rachel, and Chrissie
Shine curriculum staff

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Changing Hearts and Minds

Today, Friday, September 26, is Native American Day in the U.S. and last weekend’s Missio Alliance talks on issues of cultural tension, peace, justice, and reconciliation remain on my mind. Our editorial director Amy Gingerich wrote about it here.

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Below is a list of resources that speak to these issues. These books were the most popular at our Missio Alliance conference book table—which I was pleased to staff—and are great for personal as well as group study.

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As the speakers at the Missio Alliance conference pointed out; it’s about the gospel and getting the message of peace to a torn, tired, and hungry world. May these resources help us instill a deeper faith and embody the hope of Christ as we share Him with others.

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What MennoMedia resources have you used that have most changed your thought processes and helped you grow spiritually? Let us know!

 

Blessings,
Jerilyn Schrock
Herald Press sales and marketing manager 

Engaging the Jesus Way

Are Anabaptists ready to rock and roll? Truly ready? We live in a time when the larger church is interested in articulating positions around peace, reconciliation, and simple living, among others. And that interest is driving people to check out Anabaptist-affiliated groups and churches.

But are the Russian and German cultural heritage pieces keeping people away? Is four-part singing keeping people from engaging at a deeper level? Is talk of Zwieback or Faspa keeping us from sharing the good news?

This past weekend I attended “Church and Post-Christian Culture: Christian Witness in the Way of Jesus,” a conference hosted by Missio Alliance that focused on the convergence of evangelical and Anabaptist thought and how we apply that theology to the concept of mission.

There were 10 excellent preachers on Friday, plus more speakers on Saturday, and a workshop each day as well. My mind is still churning with ideas, so what follows are a few of my takeaways and how they intersect with my work at MennoMedia.

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So many good conversations happened during this conference. Yes, there were a number of women present (including three of us from MennoMedia and Herald Press), but this photo from our booth doesn’t show any.

Cultural religious heritage

Greg Boyd, of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, encouraged Mennonites and other Anabaptists to stop putting so much weight into the cultural aspects of religion, such as four-part singing, and instead get ready to rock and roll in our churches. I don’t doubt for a moment that Greg is right. How do we make room in our churches to welcome newcomers? Music is certainly one part of what Mennonites need to work on to be more welcoming. So are potlucks, the weight given to certain last names, and more.

“As the rest of Christianity is discovering God’s peaceful kingdom, Anabaptists are trying to forget it.” Ouch. But again, Boyd is right. Many Anabaptist churches have tried to distance themselves from their historic peace position. And yet this is what is driving neo-Anabaptists to explore Anabaptism. From a publishing perspective, I know this is what others coming to Herald Press and MennoMedia are looking for and expect.

Kurt Willems, of the Pangea Communities in Seattle, spoke of his own Mennonite heritage and affirmed exactly what Boyd was saying earlier: Willems was a raised a cultural Mennonite but not an Anabaptist.

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Kurt Willems preaching about growing up culturally Mennonite but not Anabaptist.

He grew up with Mennonite foods, attended Mennonite schools, was part of a Mennonite family with all the right surnames, and yet he did not know the Anabaptist message of peace. He has a powerful story of being convicted about the gospel of peace not by other Mennonites but in attending an event where evangelical author Shane Claiborne spoke. Willems is now a church planter in Seattle and sharing the gospel of peace with those coming to the Pangea Communities.

Jesus-looking faith

A Jesus-looking faith does not mean complicity or following a stable leader without cost. A Jesus-looking faith is risky, willing to question what the Empire has taught. Over and over the speakers shared this message in different ways, and I believe people are hungry for books and resources that flesh out this message.

“Jesus wasn’t handing out tickets to heaven,” preached Brian Zahnd, founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. “He was re-founding the world … [Jesus] isn’t Lord-Elect; he’s Lord right now!”

We’ve often gotten that wrong, and thought of faith as forward-looking toward heaven rather than in the present tense.

Think, for example, of the story from Matthew 14 of Jesus walking on the water. In that story we often focus on Jesus pulling Peter from the water once he starts to sink—the act of Jesus “saving” Peter. But Meghan Good, pastor of Albany Mennonite Church, said that this emphasis causes us to miss an important point: “Most people think Jesus is the one who pulls us out of the lake, when in reality he’s the one calling us out onto it.” Good delivered a powerful sermon, with such excellent exegetical work around this story. To what is Jesus calling each of us?

Anton Flores-Maisonet is a full-time volunteer among immigrant populations in Georgia and co-founder of the Alterna Community. He shared the idea that Jesus is the “Good Coyote,” who provides safe crossing and knows how to make the outcast feel like the most important person in the room. His work among those without documentation is a powerful witness for what it means to have a Jesus-looking faith.

Time now for me to put these challenges into action, and to have conversations with possible writers to help bring these ideas into books and resources. What ideas here resonate with you? What ideas would you like to know more about in resource or book form?