Seminary’s MLK Jr. Day event to focus on African American stories of Elkhart’s Benham West neighborhood

A forthcoming documentary and book — What Happened at Benham West: African American Stories of Community, Displacement and Hopes in the City of Elkhart — will be the focus of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s 2022 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day program. The public is invited to attend the online event, which will be livestreamed on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time at ambs.edu/mlkday.

Remembering Sherri Martin-Carman

Sherri Martin-Carman in 2010, during her years on staff at AMBS as Admissions Counselor and Development Associate (2007–12). (AMBS photo)

Sherri L. Martin-Carman, MDiv, a pastor and chaplain from Elmira, Ontario, died suddenly on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at age 51.

Martin-Carman attended AMBS from 1996 to 1998, graduating in 1998 with a Master of Divinity with a major in Theological Studies. Following her graduation, she served AMBS as a board member (1999–2005) and then joined the staff as an Admissions Counselor and Development Associate (2007–12).

According to Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC), Martin-Carman was ordained for ministry in 2013 through MCEC, serving as an interim supply pastor at Bloomingdale (Ontario) Mennonite Church (2009) and Wanner Mennonite Church in Cambridge, Ontario (2008–09), and as Associate Pastor at Tavistock (Ontario) Mennonite Church (2001–04). She also volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Mission Network and in various roles with MCEC.

Janeen Bertsche Johnson, MDiv, Director of Campus Ministries, Admissions and Development Associate, and Alumni Director, recalled that Martin-Carman started her studies at AMBS in Bertsche Johnson’s second year as Campus Pastor, and that they worked closely together until her graduation in 1998.

“Wherever she went, the energy level of the group increased because of her exuberance,” Bertsche Johnson reflected. “I treasure my memories of her: as an outstanding student leader, as a colleague during the years she worked for AMBS, and during the last conversation we had in spring 2021 after a virtual alumni gathering.”

Doug Amstutz, MDiv, Development Associate for Canada, and his spouse, Wanda, met Martin-Carman at AMBS when they were students in the 1990s and renewed their friendship in Ontario over the past decade after relocating to the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

“We will remember Sherri for her energy, her big heart and big smile, serving the aging community at Nithview and Trinity as well as her family and her church,” he said. “Sherri was an AMBS booster from the moment of her graduation, serving in a development role and afterwards continuing her support through word and deed. We mourn her passing.”

President David Boshart, PhD, served alongside Martin-Carman on the AMBS Board of Directors in the 2000s.

“As a fellow AMBS board member with Sherri, I recall how deeply she cared for AMBS, how much she loved Jesus, and her desire to support and empower the people of God as a true servant leader,” he said.  

A funeral service for Martin-Carman was held Nov. 6 at Floradale Mennonite Church in Elmira and can be viewed here.

Annette Brill Bergstresser, AMBS

Obituary

Sherri Lynn Martin-Carman

1970–2021

Sherri passed away suddenly on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at the age of 51.

Sherri found great joy in serving others through her job as a chaplain at Tri-County Mennonite Homes (Nithview) and Trinity Village Care Centre, as well as lending a helping hand to anyone in need. She was an ordained pastor through Mennonite Church Eastern Canada and was well known by her various involvements in the organization. Sherri attended Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, from 1996 to 1998 and participated in voluntary service in Indiana for a few years following. She enjoyed music, specifically playing piano and singing at her place of work, as well as at her church, Hawkesville (Ontario) Mennonite Church. In her spare time, Sherri enjoyed scrapbooking and greatly valued time spent with family and friends.

Sherri will be missed by her loving husband of 18 years, James Martin-Carman, along with her children, Justin Frayne and Caleb Martin-Carman, all of Elmira. She will be forever remembered by her mother, Pauline Martin; her sister, Tammy (Calvin) Shantz; and her nieces, Erika (Marty) Metzger and Amber (Jacob) Vos. Sherri is predeceased by her father, Allen Martin.

Visitation was held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, and from 12 to 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, at Floradale Mennonite Church, 22 Florapine Rd., RR 1, Elmira. A funeral service took place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Floradale Mennonite Church. A recording of Sherri’s service is available on the funeral home website.

In Sherri’s memory, donations to Mennonite Central Committee or Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary would be appreciated.

IMS, AMBS Bookstore host author of new book on Dutch Mennonites during WWII

By David C. Cramer

ELKHART, Indiana (AMBS) — On Wednesday, Oct. 27, the Institute of Mennonite Studies (IMS) and the AMBS Bookstore hosted Dutch Mennonite missiologist Alle Hoekema, PhD, on a video call from the Netherlands to celebrate the release of Hoekema’s new IMS publication, Hardship, Resistance, Collaboration: Essays on Dutch Mennonites during World War II and Its Aftermath.

Jamie Pitts, PhD (at right), Director of the Institute of Mennonite Studies, converses with Alle Hoekema, PhD (on screen), as part of presenting Hoekema’s new book, Hardship, Resistance, Collaboration: Essays on Dutch Mennonites during World War II and Its Aftermath, to the AMBS community during a book launch event on Oct. 27. (Credit: Melissa Troyer)

The book, published by IMS as volume 28 of the Occasional Papers series, comprises seven essays about the Dutch Mennonite experience in the 1940s, including five essays appearing for the first time in English and one written by Hoekema’s brother Gabe. Together these essays tell the stories of various responses of Dutch Mennonites to German occupation in the 1940s — from aiding Jewish refugees (including many children) to escape deportation to, in some cases, expressing open support for the Nazi party. The book concludes with an essay on Dutch Mennonite conscientious objectors to the Indonesian War of Independence from the Dutch Empire in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

At the book launch event, Jamie Pitts, PhD, Associate Professor of Anabaptist Studies and IMS Director, introduced Hoekema to the AMBS faculty, staff and students gathered in the seminary lounge. Pitts described how Hoekema had proposed the idea of collaborating on the book when they met prior to the COVID-19 pandemic at a reception at the Free University of Amsterdam, where Hoekema (now retired) taught theology and missiology.

Joining from his home in the Netherlands, Hoekema described how his interest in the Dutch Mennonite experience during World War II began around fifteen years ago when, by chance, he found a handwritten diary of a Dutch Mennonite minister’s wife in The Hague. The diary was written between 1940 and 1945 and is now housed in the archives of the Dutch National Holocaust and War Institute in Amsterdam. This discovery — along with related work in editing and publishing the minutes of a group inspired and led by Mennonite peace activist Cor Inja that tried to assist Jewish refugees from 1938 through the war — formed the basis for Hoekema’s initial research on this era.

Book cover of Hardship, Resistance, Collaboration

Hoekema shared how, through his research, he was able to establish contact with surviving German-Austrian refugee children — now in their 90s — who had been aided by Dutch Mennonites. He and his wife, Aukje, were even able to visit one of them, Olga Visser-Pollak, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, before her death in 2016 at age 91. 

Reflecting on the contribution that Hardship, Resistance, Collaboration makes to Mennonite and World War II scholarship, Hoekema identified several unique aspects of the Dutch Mennonite experience. First, Dutch Mennonites tended to be politically and theologically more liberal than North American and Southern European Mennonites prior to the war, finding themselves somewhat marginalized from majority Mennonite life at the time. Likewise, they were less ethnically Mennonite, as many Dutch joined the Mennonite Church from other denominations during its period of growth in the 19th century. Moreover, due to legally recognized religious tolerance in the Netherlands, there had already been significant interaction between Dutch Mennonites and Jews — including intermarriages — prior to the war. And, finally, the Dutch had their own sense of national pride, did not feel part of the German-speaking empire, and therefore did not generally view Nazi occupation positively.

By highlighting these unique traits of Dutch Mennonites, Hoekema hopes that the book demonstrates how people from the same religious tradition behave differently in light of their differing social and political contexts. He encouraged future research on Swiss and French Mennonites during World War II to expand the picture of Mennonite responses to Nazism.

Hardship, Resistance, Collaboration comes two decades after IMS’s first collaboration with Hoekema, Dutch Mennonite Mission in Indonesia: Historical Essays (Occasional Papers, vol. 22). Both can be purchased through the AMBS Bookstore.

The Institute of Mennonite Studies is the research and publishing wing of AMBS. Founded in 1958 under the directorship of Cornelius J. Dyck, IMS promotes scholarship in Mennonite and Believers Church theology, history, biblical studies, peace studies and related fields, primarily through the publication of books and journals and the organization of conferences.


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Leaving silence

AMBS professor’s book reclaims the Bible as a source of hope and healing for survivors of sexualized violence

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 29, 2021, issue of Anabaptist World and is reposted here with permission.

Susannah Larry, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at AMBS, is author of Leaving Silence: Sexualized Violence, the Bible and Standing with Survivors. (Credit: Annette Brill Bergstresser)

Susannah Larry, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, has written a new book, Leaving Silence: Sexualized Violence, the Bible and Standing with Survivors (Herald, 2021), exploring biblical stories of sexualized violence from a survivor-centered approach. Larry joined the AMBS faculty in 2020.

Anabaptist World asked Annette Brill Bergstresser, Communications Manager at AMBS, to interview Larry about her examination of how some of the Bible’s most difficult texts can serve as a healing witness.

How did you come to write this book?

Where I grew up, we didn’t substantially engage with large swaths of Scripture, especially in the Old Testament. We avoided conflict between Scripture and our progressive values, especially concerning issues of exclusion and violence in the Old Testament. So, when I got to seminary, much of the violence in the Bible — especially sexualized violence — was new to me.

Surprisingly, maybe, this Scriptural violence didn’t deter me from studying it further. In fact, it fueled my interest and passion for doing so.

Many of us don’t have the option to avoid hard things, and the Bible doesn’t look away from them either. This is what makes the Scriptures such a profound source of hope for me. When we pass through the troubled waters of sexualized violence, God is with us. We are heard, we are seen, and we are known.

As I grew in my vocation as a teacher, particularly in church contexts, more and more people told me their stories of sexualized trauma. I longed to share what I was learning about the Bible’s concern with their suffering. When Herald Press leaders reached out to me about writing this book, shortly after the announcement of my appointment at AMBS, I felt like my prayers had been answered.

What does Leaving Silence have to say to the church at this time of increased awareness of sexualized violence?

The #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have leveraged social media effectively to bring attention to the tragic commonness of sexualized violence. These movements have brought into the light what people treated as too shameful to discuss.

But it hasn’t been clear what the Bible’s role in this new era was supposed to be. Could the Bible really be a resource of hope and healing in this time, especially given the painful content it contains and the ways in which some interpreters have weaponized it against survivors?

I wanted to write Leaving Silence to say that we can reclaim the Bible as a transformative word for survivors of sexualized violence and their communities. Yes, the violence is there and real, both in the Bible’s time and our own. But God’s presence with, witness to and transformation of trauma is there and real as well. The Bible invites us into deep, difficult conversations about wrestling with the text and with our broken and beautiful world — conversations that are sure to leave us changed.

What key points do you want readers to take away from the book?

I want my readers to know that sexualized violence is generally about power, not sex. Imbalances of power, such as racism and sexism, create situations ripe for sexualized violence.

That’s why I call it sexualized violence, not sexual violence, because sex itself is not the problem. Perpetrators of abuse distort God’s good and beautiful gift of sex in their attempt to gain power unjustly over others.

The most important point of my book may be that God bears witness to the trauma of sexualized violence and calls us to walk alongside each other and do the same. The presence of emotionally responsive companions changes the experience of trauma, not taking away pain but guiding survivors into a more hopeful and joyful trajectory.

So often, male survivors feel disempowered through the framing of sexualized violence as a “women’s issue.” Given these dynamics, male survivors often fear that telling their stories will emasculate them. In Leaving Silence, I share some of the Bible’s witness to the stories of male survivors.

Unfortunately, families play a role in many painful stories of sexualized violence. One of my goals in Leaving Silence is to name the harm families can do, while presenting a biblical vision of family that goes beyond our biological kin.

For many survivors, self-blame is a haunting scar of trauma. The Bible both contains the trauma of self-blame and invites us to imagine pathways through and beyond it.

Finally, I want readers to close the book with an awareness that sexualized violence is so pernicious and prevalent that even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, experienced it during his torture and death as he was humiliatingly stripped and exposed. Jesus’ experience of sexualized violence — and his resurrection — demonstrate God’s nearness in the brokenness of the world and the transforming power of God’s love.

What are your hopes for how Leaving Silence will make a difference for individuals and congregations?

I hope readers will see reflected in the Bible parts of their own stories of brokenness and healing. I pray they’ll understand that sexualized violence is never within the will of God. God is bearing witness to and transforming survivors’ stories, moving us all toward a reign in which this book is no longer needed.

As the title suggests, I also hope this book will open up possibilities other than silence for those affected by sexualized violence. At the same time, there should be no pressure for survivors to share their stories; telling these stories does not make a person a “better” survivor. Those entrusted with survivors’ stories must carry them with sensitivity and responsibility, making sure that survivors’ wishes and wellness take center stage.

Often silence and shame create a vicious feedback loop for survivors. My hope is that Leaving Silence will open conversations within and beyond the church that build community, solidarity and dignity.

How does your engagement with the Bible shape your scholarship and your teaching?

My engagement with the Bible is always a dance between respecting the worlds, texts, literature, writing and audience of the Bible while rising to the challenges of interpretation today. Sometimes, especially with the topic of sexualized violence, that’s a challenge.

For instance, take the issue of consent, which is so central to 21st-century discussions of sexualized violence. I think consent is a perfectly reasonable standard for encounters, but the societies of the biblical world often did not view women as having sexual agency, making consent irrelevant at that time.

I’m always trying to find ways to let the Bible speak and to recognize the ways in which humans try to make sense of God’s revelation to us in our context today.

My passion is to invite others alongside me on this journey of recognizing how Scripture has already animated lives with the Holy Spirit and how it continues to do so today. As an Anabaptist, one of my core values is that we don’t interpret Scripture best on our own. We read texts most faithfully as a community of believers. When we read the Bible together, there’s a lot of wrestling involved, a lot of vulnerability and a lot of transformation. I’m grateful when people are willing to join me in this hard work.


In the United States, Leaving Silence is available from Herald Press and other online booksellers. In Canada, it is available from CommonWord. An accompanying study guide written by Laura Rhoades, an AMBS Master of Divinity Connect student from Wichita, Kansas, can be accessed at heraldpress.com/study-guides.


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Striking gold at Poustinia

Volunteer Coordinator makes an unexpected discovery

By Ed Kauffman

Ed and Gay Kauffman of Elkhart, Indiana, are in their fourth year as Volunteer Coordinators at AMBS. They attend Hively Avenue Mennonite Church in Elkhart. (Credit: Jason Bryant)

“So, what exactly do you do in your role at AMBS?” That’s a question I often hear when I tell people that my wife, Gay, and I are the Volunteer Coordinators at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. We’re now in our fourth year in this role, and it’s hard to describe all the various things we have done. 

One response to that question is, “We do whatever needs to be done.” That can be as mundane as making coffee for meetings, shredding papers, setting up for breaks, or checking off names for meal participants. Runs to the airport — usually South Bend but even to Chicago — offer interesting opportunities to meet people coming to campus. Keeping track of Anabaptist Short Course participation, making frames in the workshop for table displays, maintaining the coffee machine in the lounge, and coordinating the free book table are among other tasks we are involved with.

Of course, as our title suggests, when AMBS holds events that require more volunteers (such as the annual Pastors & Leaders conference), or when people volunteer for a period of time, one of our jobs is to assign them tasks and integrate them into the programs that are happening. We also oversee the Spouse Volunteer, a student’s spouse who assists in the Church Leadership Center.

But once in a while, something unique comes along. One such occasion happened as we were cleaning out Poustinia, the cloverleaf-shaped house that Clarence Bauman (1928–95), a former professor at AMBS, and Alice Bauman (1928–2019), his wife, had lived in on campus. After the estate had taken everything they wanted following Alice’s death in 2019, I wandered over to see what was left and found several containers of photographic slides. Having had Clarence as a professor and knowing a bit about his life, I was curious. So I gathered them up and, as time permitted, scanned through them.

There were some family pictures, which I managed to pass along to the family. There were many pictures from The Hermitage that Clarence and Alice built in the mountains of British Columbia.  Knowing that this was on the property of Camp Squeah, Mennonite Church British Columbia’s camp near Hope, British Columbia, I contacted them and passed quite a few slides on to them.

But most intriguing were about 50 slides from the Goldstream Gold Mine, outside Fairbanks, Alaska. It was clear that Clarence had worked for a summer at this gold mine, probably in the summer of 1952 or ’53. There were slides along the Alaska Highway on the journey up, and a final one of his lodging in Goshen, Indiana, when he attended school there. Being curious, I did a Google search for the gold mine and discovered that it was a well known mine, with a rather famous dredge that Clarence had taken pictures of. Indeed, I found a picture online from the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 

A quick email to those archives to inquire whether they would be interested in these slides prompted a reply that, yes, they would be interested if I could verify that it was indeed the Fairbanks gold mine. Since Clarence had written out a rather detailed description of each slide, that was easy to verify, and so there is now a collection entitled “Clarence Bauman Photographs” in the archives of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. And I have the pleasure of a letter thanking me for the donation that will further research and interest in the Goldstream mine. 

I can’t promise you’ll find a project that’s this unique, but if you are interested in volunteering at AMBS, I’m sure we can find things for you to do! Contact us at [email protected].


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Rooted and Grounded keynotes explore loss, connection and imagination

By Jennifer Schrock of the Mennonite Creation Care Network

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Mennonite Creation Care Network) — Healing and restoring our broken connections to the land — as individuals and communities — was the focus of the fifth Rooted and Grounded Conference on Land and Christian Discipleship, held Oct. 14–16, 2021, at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana. 

Debbie Bledsoe (third from right) of Raleigh, North Carolina, an AMBS Master of Divinity student who is co-chair of the AMBS Garden Committee, speaks during a Rooted and Grounded Conference workshop entitled, “Community Gardens as a Place of Encounter and Transformation.” Bledsoe described how one-seventh of the land in the garden is left fallow as directed in the book of Leviticus, and one-tenth is devoted to local community needs. (Credit: Jennifer Schrock for Mennonite Creation Care Network)

More than 60 people participated in the event in person, and 20 people from across the United States and Canada joined selected sessions online. At least 17 different higher education institutions were represented by participants at the conference, which was sponsored by AMBS, the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions and Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen (Indiana) College.

Conference planners focused on the theme, “Land: Loss, Connection and Imagination.” 

“We wanted to explore how we can live with hope in a time of ecological crisis and to imagine what resilience looks like,” explained Janeen Bertsche Johnson, MDiv, AMBS Director of Campus Ministries and the conference coordinator. 

Over three days, keynote addresses, immersion experiences, workshops and imagination exercises moved those gathered from lament to longing, hope, faith and commitment to act for change. 

Lessons from Timorese place relationships

Laura Meitzner Yoder, PhD, a political ecologist and Professor of Environmental Studies at Wheaton (Illinois) College, gave the opening keynote address. Yoder, who also serves as Director and John Stott Chair of Human Needs and Global Resources at Wheaton, since 2001 has been in dialogue with small landholders and forest dwellers in Timor-Leste, a half-island nation between Indonesia and Australia.

Yoder’s address, “Mobility, Displacement, Replacement: Learning from Timorese Place Relationships,” pushed listeners to view their own experiences through the lens of the Indigenous (Meto) people of western Timor island. After describing the ways in which Timorese family names incorporate place names, Yoder asked those present if any of them had names that refer to places. She also explained the Timorese practice of topogeny — the telling of one’s history through reciting strings of place names that highlight ancestors’ mobility and important happenings as they moved through the landscape — and asked her listeners to briefly reflect on their own topogenies.

According to Yoder, one unique aspect of western Timorese culture is a ritual authority figure known as a tobe who is tied to a particular body of land for life. The tobe is responsible to communicate with the spirits of the place and to approve decisions related to land use, resource extraction and agricultural rituals within that domain. Tobes are kept separate from outside influences and are not allowed to learn to read, write, travel freely or enter a church, since these things are believed to disrupt their communication with nature. 

Drawing parallels to authors like Kathleen Norris and Wendell Berry, Yoder invited listeners to picture people they knew who were well grounded in a particular place. 

“How does this spatial intimacy enable the person to communicate the sacredness of that place?” she asked.

Timor-Leste’s complex history contains much tragedy, Yoder said. The people have survived colonial displacement from laws favoring European landowners, Indonesian military displacement that killed a third of the population, and recent displacement due to economic modernization plans. According to Yoder, villagers still weep when they describe how in the early 1980s people were forced to cut down their protected sandalwood trees and load them onto military ships. Yet the Timorese have displayed resilience. Yoder described the practice of tara bandu, a time-bound prohibition on resource harvesting that Timorese have observed even in dire circumstances — such as when all of their palm and grass thatch roofs had been burned at the same time and the forest could not provide enough roofing material for everyone.

“I marvel at how tens of thousands of Timorese took the collective action necessary to allow their land and forests to heal and to recover,” Yoder said.

Shipwrecks, ancient and modern

Timothy R. Eberhart, MDiv, PhD, offered the second keynote address, “Regenerative Solidarity Among the Remnants.” Eberhart serves as Murray H. Leiffer Associate Professor of Public Theology and Ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. He directs the Master of Arts in Public Ministry degree and oversees a concentration in ecological regeneration. 

“How should we describe the present age?” Eberhart asked. “What metaphors or analogies might best convey a sense of the social and existential realities of our time?” 

He likened the current circumstances to a societal shipwreck, referring to the story in Acts 27 of the Apostle Paul during a storm at sea and noting that in the third and fourth centuries, the desert mothers and fathers used shipwrecks as a common metaphor for the time of upheaval they lived in.

In the Acts story, prisoners (including Paul) clung to their ship’s wreckage and paddled ashore to the island of Malta following a devastating storm. The boat was an imperial ship, run by soldiers prepared to kill the prisoners in their care. Likewise, Eberhart said — drawing on the work of Margaret Wheatley and other systems thinkers — the present time is one of immense upheaval and collapse. The many crises in the world today have a deep history and include the removal of people from a direct relationship with the land; the exploitation of land and labor; the expansion of “free” market logics into more and more spheres of life; and the use of ideological frameworks such as White supremacy to justify abuses. 

“How does it feel to be a leader in this time of disintegration?” Eberhart asked his audience, allowing time for them to reflect and offer a single word in response. 

“Vulnerable … overwhelmed … alone … helpless … angry,” they replied. 

“Genuine hope begins with a very hard realism,” he responded. “It begins on the cross with a great cry. It begins in the tomb with a dead body.” 

Referring to the adaptive cycle of growth, conservation, release and reorganization that is present in natural systems, he emphasized that times of release also offer an immense opportunity for creative reordering — an “opportune time for deep, systemic change.”   

While Eberhart sees Christian denominations as among the institutions experiencing upheaval, he insists that there are still spiritual and theological remnants to cling to.

“Grab hold of the remnants and stay afloat!” he urged. “Look for the gifts of the Spirit, for stored-up financial and institutional resources, and for the contributions of our distinct traditions — including Mennonite simplicity and peacemaking and the holistic theology of Methodism. Life-sustaining resources are floating all around.” 

“Ours will remain a time of crucifixion and lament,” he concluded. “But as we weep, and come undone, let’s also grab hold, not just to what remains, but to one another. And then let’s reach together for the safety, and toward the just peace, of the land.” 

Additional conference activities

New this year were two extended sessions in which participants worked in groups to imagine ways that their combined gifts and resources could solve environmental challenges. Groups worked on issues such as caring for a community’s watershed; finding regenerative uses for empty city lots; overcoming the distance between faith and science; and strengthening a community farm. Luke Gascho, EdD, a planning committee member with expertise in organizational leadership, and Malinda Elizabeth Berry, PhD, Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at AMBS and a planning committee member, led the process. 

Participants also attended paper presentations and workshops on a range of topics, including Fannie Lou Hamer’s environmental theology; planting and caring for trees; Wild Church worship; community gardens; Indigenous struggles for land and water rights; agrarian cultures and land revitalization; pastoral ecology; and lament as a healing practice; among others.

In addition to Berry, Gascho and Johnson, the planning committee for the event included Melissa Kinsey, MPA, an environmental educator; and Beverly Lapp, EdD, AMBS Vice President and Academic Dean. Rachel Miller Jacobs, DMin, AMBS Associate Professor of Congregational Formation; AMBS Master of Divinity student Sibonokuhle Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe; and Johnson served as worship planners.

Prior Rooted and Grounded conferences were held in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018.


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“Focus on the people of God,” Millsaps urges seminary grads

By John David Thacker and Annette Brill Bergstresser

Thirteen of the 21 members of AMBS’s Class of 2021 were present in person for the May 1 commencement service at the seminary’s Chapel of the Sermon on the Mount. (l. to r.): Beverly Lapp, Ed.D., vice president and academic dean; Henok T. Mekonin; Catherine G. Stoner; Meredith K. Caldwell; Becky Helmuth; Luis Marcos Tapia Rubio; Endalk Degefu; Salomé Haldemann; Amy Amanda Chupp Kratzer; Henry Duvanel Unruh; Tyler Andrew Brinkman; Quinn Brenneke; Marcos Acosta; Mary (Ann) Jacobs; and David Boshart, Ph.D., president. (Masks were required at the event, except for the outdoor reception.) (Not pictured: Pratik Bagh; Perry (Alex) Feldman; Joshua Janzen; Danae King; Andrew L. Oliver; Matthew W. Troyer-Miller; Michael Unruh; and Amy Lynn Whitehead.) (Credit: Peter Ringenberg)

ELKHART, Indiana — Cyneatha Millsaps, M.Div., told the 21 candidates for graduation at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary‘s (AMBS) May 1 commencement service “not to take anything for granted in this challenging world — to assume nothing.”

Around 60 people attended the service in person in the Elkhart, Indiana, seminary’s Chapel of the Sermon on the Mount; attendance was limited to follow Elkhart County COVID-19 safety guidelines, and nearly 100 percent of the graduates, faculty and guests were fully vaccinated. People on more than 100 devices from Europe and North and South America viewed the event via livestream.

In her address, Millsaps drew upon the story of Peter (a disciple of Jesus and a Jew) and Cornelius (a Gentile) in Acts 10, noting that while the passage is often titled ‘The conversion of Cornelius,’ “it is much more a conversion of Peter — that is, in his attitude and his opinion towards the Gentiles.”

“Our Scripture passage today shows us that it doesn’t matter how great a pastor or a leader you become, you can miss the mark,” said Millsaps, a 2008 AMBS graduate who serves as executive director of Mennonite Women USA, co-pastor of Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart, and chair of the Board of Directors of the new Tolson Center for Community Excellence in Elkhart.

“The church today is stuck, deciding who is clean and unclean,” she said. “For the new leaders, please do not let the systems, traditions and people cause you to miss the people of God.”

Millsaps explained that Peter was so fixated on what he thought he knew that he could no longer see what was possible, adding, “Four-part harmony is great, but you may be called to gospel rap.”

Noting that God prepared both Peter and Cornelius for their meeting, she encouraged the candidates to be prepared to encounter other God-seekers in surprising ways and to watch for what God is doing in the world around them.

“My warning to you is to enter into your new call not trying to be what the people of the church already know and believe, but to enter into the world of Cornelius — looking for people eager to learn, live and worship,” she said. “Spend as much time as you can asking God to show you which way you should go.”

Millsaps drew parallels between Peter’s encounter with the Gentiles and today’s context. Over the last 20 years, she said, the church has been focusing on its dwindling numbers. People have embraced spirituality but avoided religion. People who have been traumatized by the church have fled it.

“You are about to meet those new Gentiles: two generations of unchurched or barely churched people —people God has been watching and preparing for the last 20 or 30 years,” she said. She urged the candidates to “focus on the people of God” — on their journey; their desire to connect with God and others; and on “the love and grace and mercy found in Jesus Christ.”

After the graduates received their degrees and certificates, Jamie Pitts, Ph.D., associate professor of Anabaptist studies, charged them to lead in the tradition of Ursula Jost, a 16th-century Anabaptist and prophet: being captivated by God’s beauty and open to having their imaginations enlarged by God’s Spirit and Word; preaching that God is on the side of the oppressed; retaining steadfast trust in God; and “pursuing communities of creativity and hope rather than of violence and toil.”

“My charge to you is that you would get your hands dirty in the soil of God’s good earth, and with holy dirt in hand, that you would disrupt the powers that capture creation’s abundance, so that all might partake of God’s blessings and give God the highest thanks and praise,” he said.

Rachel Miller Jacobs, D.Min., associate professor of congregational formation, offered the blessing prayer, thanking God for the graduates, the gift they have been to the AMBS community, their accomplishments and future ministries; entrusting each graduate to God’s care; and praying that God would whisper to them every day, “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.”

Following the service, an in-person reception following COVID-19 safety protocols was held outdoors in the AMBS courtyard for the seminary community, the graduates and their guests.

The 2021 graduating class

Of the 21 graduates honored during the commencement service, 15 earned a Master of Divinity; two earned a Master of Arts in Christian Formation; and two earned a Master of Arts: Theology and Peace Studies. Two students received a Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies.

The graduating class comprised 13 men and eight women from seven countries — Argentina, Canada, Chile, Ethiopia, France, India and the United States — on five continents. Eight of the graduates completed at least part of their seminary studies at a distance through the Master of Divinity Connect program or the Graduate Certificate.

Eleven of the graduates are serving in pastoral ministry roles or are seeking pastoral assignments; three are discerning future options for ministry, mission or service work; four plan to be involved with education or research; two are engaged in social work; two plan to pursue further studies or training; and one is serving a church agency.

Nine of the graduates are members of Mennonite Church USA; one is from Mennonite Church Canada; and five graduates are from Mennonite denominations around the world. Three graduates are from the United Methodist or Wesleyan tradition; one is from the Evangelical Free Church of America; and two are from nondenominational churches.

Mennonite colleges and universities with graduates in AMBS’s Class of 2021 include Bethel College (Kansas), Bluffton UniversityEastern Mennonite UniversityGoshen CollegeHesston College and Meserete Kristos College.

A recording of the commencement service is available at ambs.edu/commencement.

AMBS MLK Jr. Day event addresses exclusion of African Americans in Elkhart and need for repair

By Quinn Brenneke

(l. to r.) Special guest Benjamin J. Tapper, M.P.A., M.Div., facilitates a panel discussion featuring longtime Elkhart residents and leaders Rev. Jean Mayes and Rev. Dr. Plez Lovelady as part of AMBS’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day event at AMBS on Jan. 20, 2020, on the theme, Repairing the Harm: A Community Conversation on the Systemic Exclusion of African Americans in Elkhart. A community conversation followed the discussion. (Credit: Oliver Pettis)

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Nearly 175 community members, students, faculty and staff gathered to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day on Monday afternoon, Jan. 20, at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana. This year, AMBS’s biennial event centered on the theme, Repairing the Harm: A Community Conversation on the Systemic Exclusion of African Americans in Elkhart.

A panel discussion between Rev. Jean Mayes and Rev. Dr. Plez Lovelady kicked off the free event in the Chapel of the Sermon on the Mount, followed by a community conversation in the Waltner Hall Lounge. Mayes is an ordained local elder to St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Elkhart; she earned a degree in biblical studies from Bethel University in Mishawaka, Indiana. Lovelady is senior pastor at Southside Baptist Church in Elkhart, executive director of S.B.C. Ministries and chancellor of Beulah Bible College and Seminary in Elkhart; he is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute.

Benjamin J. Tapper facilitated the panel discussion and community conversation. An associate for resource consulting with the Center for Congregations in Indianapolis, Indiana, Tapper holds a Master of Public Affairs from Indiana University and a Master of Divinity from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis and hosts the Invisible Truths podcast.

Tapper began the panel discussion by asking Mayes and Lovelady to name one or two specific harms they have seen in the Elkhart community over their lives and to describe the impact of those harms. Mayes recalled growing up in a mostly Black neighborhood located around the railroad tracks on the south side of Elkhart and described the solidarity she experienced there.

“We never knew that we had less. Our community was so small, and pretty much everyone in it had the same thing,” she said. She noted that the Black community was self-sustaining, with its own grocery stores, meat markets, beauty shops, and clothing and furniture stores.

“I watched the city grow up around us,” she said. “I remember a day when — and most people don’t know this — there used to be a Black school here. I attended that Black school; it was called South Side School. It’s very hard to find reference to that school. It’s almost like our history was erased. And I think that’s the problem that is happening all around the country; Black history is being erased.”

Mayes noted that integration of schools came out necessity when the Black school was torn down and the city had to find places for the students to go. She and her two sisters ended up having to go to three different schools. She witnessed a similar division of families across the city.

Lovelady described the discrimination he has seen in Elkhart during his lifetime.

“We were red-lined within a certain area of the community,” he said. “Once we graduated from high school, the real Elkhart came out. You could not get a job here. There was no respect here. A lot of the people we thought were our friends literally didn’t speak to us because we were in that little corner of Elkhart.”

He remembered when the City of Elkhart demolished the Black neighborhood in the 1960s and ’70s.

“One of the saddest parts was when they tore down the ‘village’ — when they told us the land where we lived was contaminated and the banks would not invest money in it,” he said. “They said, ‘However, we will sell you some other houses that are really falling apart, but it’s better than what you have.’ Many people who had been in these homes all of their lives found themselves going out and getting in debt all over again.”

Tapper asked the panelists to imagine what repairs would look like for the harms that they have seen. Mayes pointed to the need to consider all parts of the community in order to repair harm.

“As long as you have one sick part of your neighborhood or community, your whole city is sick,” she said. “Every economic dollar that we spend downtown and on the north [side of Elkhart], 25 cents of it ought to go to the south part of the city, too — not to tear down and vacate homes, but to build them up and repair them. They have historical value just like the downtown has historical value.”

Lovelady described how parks in African American communities are neglected and treated like traps for drug dealers, leading to young Black men and women being charged with felonies that affect their future access to housing, employment, being able to vote, etc.

“We need to understand that we all have worth, and to open opportunities for people in the city,” he advised. “Most of our younger people are moving to Indianapolis because they understand that there’s nothing here for them — no jobs with opportunities for advancement. The money is held in a certain part of the city. To make things better here, we need to look at things holistically and economically. We have to realize that we are coming to the table, and we are coming to the table with worth.”

Lovelady also pointed to the need for personal change: “There has to be a heart change. There has to be a mind change.”

Mayes added, “In order to have a heart change, we have to begin to look at each other as individuals and not as mass groups. And until we look at our community as a whole community and stop dividing ourselves in a caste system type of way, we will never have full community or full peace in Elkhart.”

Singing before and after the panel discussion was led by Clara Hadley, a worship director and church administrator at Kingdom Impact Christian Cultural Center in Elkhart. Jean Robinson, who was previously scheduled as a panelist, was not able to attend.

Tapper facilitated a community conversation after the panel discussion. Attendees gathered in small groups to discuss reflection questions, and Tapper closed with a historical overview of racialized discrimination in the United States. He traced the movement of enslaved people through the Middle Passage to the Americas, where slavery was eventually made illegal centuries later. Reparations were promised but not honored, he said, and legal discrimination was enacted in the Jim Crow laws. Tapper indicated that this historical legacy was challenged by the civil rights movement, but new eras of systemic discrimination — such as mass incarceration — continue to disadvantage Black communities.

“Understand that as we talk about repairing the harm, as much as dialogue is important, we have to put it in context as one small step in a centuries-long process,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us to undo this.”

Rod Roberson, who was elected in November as Elkhart’s first African American mayor, attended the community conversation and shared closing words.

“Whenever someone doesn’t have a voice, I want to give them a fighting chance,” he said. “Thank you for being here; thank you for all that you do.”

AMBS’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day event was hosted and organized by AMBS’s Intercultural Competence and Undoing Racism (ICUR) team, led by Nekeisha Alayna Alexis, M.A., Intercultural Competence and Undoing Racism coordinator. Event planners included ICUR team members Alexis, Andy Brubacher Kaethler, Ph.D., AMBS Associate Professor of Christian Formation and Culture, and Marisa Smucker, an M.A. in Christian Formation student from Goshen, Indiana.

Alexis spoke of the premise for celebrating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy before the panel discussion began.

“Repair is essential to the work of reconciliation and justice,” she said. “Justice and reconciliation require remedy; they require repair for harm; they require restitution for damage and hurt. But that enables us to be creative together.”

See also the recording of the event online and ambs.edu/mlkday.

— Quinn Brenneke of Fort Wayne, Indiana, is a second-year Master of Divinity student at AMBS, majoring in Theological Studies.


Photos

(l. to r.) Jake Webster and Tom Butler participate in the community conversation that followed the panel discussion on the topic, Repairing the Harm: A Community Conversation on the Systemic Exclusion of African Americans in Elkhart, at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day event at AMBS on Jan. 20, 2020. (Credit: Oliver Pettis)

Nekeisha Alayna Alexis, M.A., addresses participants at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day event at AMBS on Jan. 20, 2020, on the theme, Repairing the Harm: A Community Conversation on the Systemic Exclusion of African Americans in Elkhart. Alexis is AMBS’s Intercultural Competence and Undoing Racism coordinator and an organizer of the biennial event. (Credit: Oliver Pettis)

Clara Hadley leads singing at Repairing the Harm: A Community Conversation on the Systemic Exclusion of African Americans in Elkhart, hosted by the Intercultural Competence and Undoing Racism team at AMBS in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day on Jan. 20, 2020. (Credit: Oliver Pettis)

Rod Roberson at Repairing the Harm: A Community Conversation on the Systemic Exclusion of African Americans in Elkhart, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day event hosted by the Intercultural Competence and Undoing Racism team at AMBS on Jan. 20, 2020. (Credit: Oliver Pettis)

AMBS response to Hilary Scarsella

Sara Wenger Shenk, President | As AMBS President, I speak on behalf of the Sexual Misconduct Response Team (SMRT) and the AMBS Board Chair to affirm Hilary Scarsella in her decision to publish her account of a sexual assault she experienced in 2009 while a student at AMBS and of AMBS’s administrative response. Further, while this incident happened before my time at AMBS, I speak now on behalf of AMBS as an institution and the administrators who were directly involved at the time of the assault. Thank you, Hilary, for daring to disclose the truth of your experience at great personal risk. And thank you for inviting AMBS to provide an official response.