Leading in hope through difficult times to be focus of joint conference

Pastors & Leaders | Deep Faith 2022 Conference to explore “Formed in the Wilderness, Leading in Hope”

ELKHART, Indiana (AMBS/Mennonite Church USA) — From its beginnings, the church in many places has faced times of great upheaval and struggle. Yet somehow, God’s people have not only survived but thrived, and their lives and leadership have often been shaped by surprising hope. What can we learn from leaders who were formed “in the wilderness” for the struggles we face today?

This question is central to the theme of an upcoming conference — Formed in the Wilderness, Leading in Hope — which will begin at 7 p.m. EST on Monday, Feb. 21, and conclude at 12:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 24. The event will be held in person on the campus of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana, with livestreaming and Zoom connections also available for those at a distance. (COVID-19-safe protocols will be followed.)

The event is a joint conference of two leadership gatherings: the AMBS Church Leadership Center’s annual Pastors & Leaders conference and Mennonite Church USA’s Deep Faith gathering for faith formation leaders. Pastors and faith formation leaders of all Christian denominations are invited to attend.

“In this stressful time when everything is shifting and very little seems certain, we are so fortunate to be surrounded by wise leaders — in the pages of Scripture, in the voices of the early church, in the conference speakers and in each other,” said Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, PhD, AMBS Dean of Lifelong Learning and one of the planners of the event. “I look forward to walking alongside and learning from leaders who have persevered through great difficulty and yet have led — and continue to lead — with great courage, clarity, faith and hope.”

Participants in the conference will draw insight from the late Alan Kreider’s book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire (Baker Academic, 2016), as they seek guidance and inspiration for the challenges of today. Each day, Eleanor Kreider, Alan’s wife and partner in ministry and scholarship, will offer reflections on readings from Alan’s book, followed by responses from two Anabaptist church leaders. Also each day, Tom Yoder Neufeld will lead Bible studies that draw on stories of leading in hope through difficult times.

“Alan Kreider’s book provides rich material about the formation practices of the early church, and I’m looking forward to gathering with pastors and other formation leaders to ponder the possibilities it sparks for nurturing faith in Jesus in our present-day contexts,” reflected Shana Peachey Boshart, Faith Formation minister for Mennonite Education Agency and one of the planners of the event.

Speakers at Pastors & Leaders | Deep Faith 2002 include (l. to r.) Sibonokuhle Ncube, PhD; Eleanor Kreider, MMus; Tom Yoder Neufeld, ThD; and Rolando Sosa Granados, MDiv. (Photos provided)

Speakers

The conference — which will include worship, prayer, teaching sessions and numerous workshops — will feature the following speakers:

  • Opening Address: Sibonokuhle Ncube, PhD, AMBS MDiv student; social justice advocate; development, humanitarian relief, and peace practitioner
  • Teaching Sessions: Eleanor Kreider, MMus, theologian; church musician; retired missionary
  • Bible Studies: Tom Yoder Neufeld, ThD, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies and Theological Studies at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ontario
  • Sending Sermon: Rolando Sosa Granados, MDiv, Pastor at Piedra Viva Mennonite Church, Elkhart; therapist for children and adolescents

Workshops

Participants will be able to choose from 23 in-person and 10 online workshops; sample titles include:

• The Bible Project: A Tool in Faith Formation

• Embracing the Hope of the Beloved Community

• Engaging the Whole Church in Conversations That Matter

• Fear Not: Hoping Towards Nonviolent Responses to Violence

• Gathering Hope: Ways We Guide Faith Formation

• Peaceful Practices for the Wilderness of Polarization

• Political Idolatry and White Christian Nationalism

• Reclaiming Hope from Trauma Narratives in Scripture

• Shalom Readers: Helping Children and Adults Choose the Jesus-Way of Peace

• Social Media Use and Intercultural Engagement

• Wounded Healer: Trauma-aware Spiritual Care

Registration 

Registration fees for the event vary for individuals, married couples, and students. Discounts are available for first-time participants, those who bring a friend who has never attended Pastors & Leaders, and those needing financial assistance. Register before Jan. 15, 2022, to receive the best rate. The final registration deadline is Feb. 14, 2022.

Participants who attend all plenary and workshop sessions may earn 1.2 Continuing Education Units (CEUs). 

Learn more about the schedule, meals, lodging and transportation: ambs.edu/pastorsandleaders

See also information about the daylong Healthy Boundaries Leadership Clinic to be held on Monday, Feb. 21, before the start of the conference: ambs.edu/leadership-clinics  

Collaborating to support theological thought leaders

This is the second joint conference of Pastors & Leaders and Deep Faith. The first one was held in March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns began in the U.S. Both AMBS and Mennonite Church USA were among the sponsors of the original Deep Faith conference, which was planned by an ad hoc group of faith formation leaders from Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada and was held at AMBS in October 2016. (AMBS is a seminary of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.)

AMBS/Mennonite Church USA release

Mennonite Church USA is the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States with 16 conferences, approximately 530 congregations and 62,000 members. An Anabaptist Christian denomination, MC USA is part of Mennonite World Conference, a global faith family that includes churches in 58 countries. It has offices in Elkhart, Indiana, and Newton, Kansas. mennoniteUSA.org

Located in Elkhart, Indiana, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary is a learning community with an Anabaptist vision, offering theological education for learners both on campus and at a distance, including a wide array of lifelong learning programs — all with the goal of educating followers of Jesus Christ to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world. ambs.edu

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.

AMBS honors Speckeen and Wiebe with Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

(View the recordings of the award presentations)

ELKHART, Indiana — Frederick J. Speckeen, PhD, of Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, and Leonard Wiebe, MST, of Goshen, Indiana, are the 2021 recipients of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s (AMBS) Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition.

Frederick Speckeen, PhD (at left), and Leonard Wiebe, MST (at right), are the 2021 recipients of AMBS’s Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition. (Speckeen: photo provided / Wiebe: credit: Annette Brill Bergstresser)

The annual award of the Elkhart, Indiana, seminary honors alumni with an outstanding record of faithful ministry and service. Both recipients earned Bachelor of Divinity degrees from the seminaries that later joined to become AMBS — Speckeen from Goshen Biblical Seminary in 1956 and Wiebe from Mennonite Biblical Seminary in 1960.

Alumni Director Janeen Bertsche Johnson (MDiv 1989) noted that for three years, AMBS has selected two alumni for recognition — one for contributions in congregational ministry; and one for contributions in teaching, mission work, peace work, spiritual direction, or another ministry.

“As we looked through this year’s nominations, we were impressed by the rich service that Fred and Leonard have given over their lifetimes — Fred in administrative leadership and Leonard as a pastor and church planter,” she reflected. “We hope their stories inspire others to see seminary education as a vital gift for whatever professional path they may take.”

Speckeen and Wiebe were honored during separate Zoom receptions on Tuesday, Dec. 7 — Wiebe from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. Eastern Time, and Speckeen from 7:30 to 8:15 p.m. ET. (Recordings of the events will be made available online.)

Frederick Speckeen

Speckeen was born near Hespeler, Ontario; he and his brother were raised Presbyterian by their parents, who were factory workers. As the first one in his family to attend high school, Speckeen graduated first in his class from a four-year vocational program in practical electricity and began working for a company that manufactured electrical appliances. He returned to high school for grade 13 to prepare for post-secondary education.

“I was influenced to attend Goshen (Indiana) College [GC] by a Mennonite fellow — James Snyder — whom I met in grade 13,” Speckeen recalled. “He and I later taught at GC at the same time.”

Speckeen said that while studying at GC, he was motivated to study at Goshen Biblical Seminary (GBS) by the quality of the GBS courses and the faculty — some of whom taught at both the college and seminary.

“My lasting impression of GBS was the dedication of the faculty and staff to its students, the Mennonite Church and the community,” he said. “Theirs was a life of service, with heavy teaching loads for the faculty, limited resources for the staff and, as I learned later, not high salaries.”

Speckeen said the faculty members’ research and writing impressed him, and he enjoyed building relationships with GBS faculty and staff.

“Their Christ-centeredness and servant leadership were inspiring and motivated me as I later took on responsibilities in the church and community — locally and internationally,” he said. “Being a servant and servant leader took me into places I never dreamed of or expected, as did having a worldview for understanding and peace.”

After earning his Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences from GC (1952), Speckeen studied theology at Knox College in Toronto and returned to Goshen to complete his GBS degree. He then earned a PhD in Communication Arts from Michigan State University in East Lansing (1961).

Speckeen spent most of his career in higher education. While earning his GBS degree, he taught in the Speech Department at GC (1954–56). He served in various administrative faculty positions at the University of Dubuque (Iowa), a Presbyterian institution (1960–62); Waterloo (Ontario) Lutheran University (1963–67); and for a project of the Lutheran Church to establish an international university in Freeport, Bahama Islands (1967–68).

From 1968 to 1994, he led five community colleges in the provinces of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia — one as Vice President and four as President. According to Speckeen, these three-year institutions served isolated and remote communities, offering nondegree technical-vocational, applied and apprenticeship programs as well as high-school equivalency, fine arts, and university transfer courses.

Speckeen has offered his leadership skills to the church as well. He was ordained at First Presbyterian Church in Goshen in 1957 and served as Director of Christian Education/Assistant Minister. He served The Presbyterian Church in Canada as a representative on the National Inter-Church Action Working Group for Asia and the Pacific and as Chair of a subgroup to establish policies and actions on relief, economic and social justice issues (1999–2001). He was Director of the Board of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (2002–05) and served as a board member for St. Andrew’s Hall (a Presbyterian theological college in British Columbia) and Vancouver School of Theology (2003–08). He was an on-call hospital chaplain and a visiting chaplain for a seniors’ residence in Kelowna, British Columbia.

Throughout his life, Speckeen has contributed his experience and insights as a member and chair of various educational boards, advisory committees, social service agencies and service clubs. He was the founding chair of the Calgary Consortium on Tourism and Hospitality Training and Chair of the Kitchener and District Public School Board.

Speckeen also engaged First Nations communities in northern Canada, serving as a board member for the Old Sun Community College, Blackfoot First Nations, Alberta (1986), and assisting First Nations communities with business planning, fundraising, special events and education. He and his wife, Joan, a nursing instructor, served on several church projects in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, working in education, health, administration, management, skills training and recreation. They also volunteered with nonchurch organizations on similar projects in various Caribbean countries, Thailand, Pakistan, Bulgaria, the Philippines, Armenia and the United Kingdom. The Speckeens attend Trinity United Church in Prince George.

Leonard Wiebe

Leonard Wiebe grew up on a farm in Whitewater, Kansas, the youngest of four children of West Prussian immigrants who met in Newton, Kansas. He began studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence but stopped to do two years of alternative service at a polio hospital in California. He then transferred to Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas — where he met his wife, Joan, and completed a Bachelor of Arts in History (1957).

While at Bethel, Leonard and Joan became close friends with Erland Waltner, a Bible professor at Bethel who later went on to serve as Professor of English Bible and President of Mennonite Biblical Seminary (MBS). Waltner officiated the Wiebes’ wedding — the day after their graduation — and encouraged them to attend MBS, which was located in Chicago at that time.

It wasn’t the first time someone had identified Wiebe’s gifts for ministry. While at the polio hospital, a young woman Wiebe had taken care of told him he ought to become a pastor. His older sister, Gertrude Roten (who later taught Greek at AMBS), used to call him “her little preacher boy,” he recalled. The Wiebes followed this call and enrolled at MBS that fall.

“I really looked forward to my experience at MBS,” Wiebe said. “There were small groups that formed, and we had an excellent group that met throughout our three years at the seminary. It was the right school for us.”

The couple’s first year at seminary was in Chicago. Wiebe recalled the close companionship that developed as they rode the bus to class with their fellow students, visiting and studying Greek flashcards on the way.

“It was a meaningful experience to spend one year studying in the inner city,” he said.

In 1958, MBS and GBS began a cooperative program known as Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, and MBS (and the Wiebes) relocated to Elkhart. Wiebe recalled the excitement of being part of this new collaborative venture, which Waltner played a key role in leading.

During their third year, the Wiebes got a call from First Mennonite Church of Berne (Indiana) to plant a church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They accepted the invitation and began commuting to Fort Wayne on weekends, holding worship services and summer Bible school in a parsonage purchased by the Berne congregation.

Following Leonard’s graduation in 1960, the Wiebes moved to the parsonage to continue forming Maplewood Mennonite Church. The Berne church helped the new congregation build its first building in 1963, and the Wiebes pastored there until 1974. During this time, Wiebe also completed a Master of Sacred Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York (1970), and they had three children.

In 1974, the couple accepted a call from Faith Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas, and Wiebe pastored there for 12 years. Joan worked for the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCMC) Women in Mission. They then received a call from Western District Conference of the GCMC to plant a church in East Denver. After buying a house there in 1986, they began making contacts in the area, renting meeting space at a senior center. With the financial and prayerful support of many congregations (including Berne and Maplewood), they established Peace Mennonite Community Church in Aurora, serving there until 1998.

“I always felt that the seminary encouraged us and was very close to whatever we were doing in church planting,” Wiebe reflected. “In addition to Erland, a number of professors made a deep impression on our lives, such as Jake Enz and Paul Miller. There was a real caring for each person and a strong sense of prayer in the school that helped us and gave us the support we needed.”

After returning to northern Indiana, Wiebe served as a congregational coach for several Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference churches. He expressed gratitude for Joan’s partnership in their shared ministry, affirming her strengths in hospitality, relationship-building, teaching and leading music. The Wiebes are members of Eighth Street Mennonite Church in Goshen.


(View the recordings of the award presentations)

AMBS reports growth in degree-seeking students, distance education programs

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana, is reporting upward trends in several notable enrollment statistics this fall:

  • The number of degree- or certificate-seeking graduate students rose from 92 to 116 — an increase of 26 percent from 2020 and the highest number since 2010.
  • Participation in AMBS’s distance education programs continues to grow, with 62 percent of admitted students enrolled in distance-friendly degree or certificate programs.
  • AMBS’s number of international graduate students (from outside of the U.S. or Canada) has continued its upward trajectory — from 37 in 2020 to a record high of 54 in 2021 — largely due to the success of the fully online Master of Arts: Theology and Global Anabaptism (MATGA) degree launched in 2019. Twenty-seven of the seminary’s 42 Ethiopian students are enrolled in MATGA cohorts through AMBS’s partnership with Meserete Kristos Seminary in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia.
  • For the first time, the majority of the student body identifies as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).
  • AMBS’s incoming graduate student class of 45 in 2021 is 60.7 percent larger than in 2020 (28).
  • Graduate-level course enrollments rose to their highest level in seven years: 53.6 FTE (full-time equivalency).

“We’re especially excited about the 26-percent increase in the number of degree- or certificate-seeking students from last year to this year,” said Daniel Grimes, MPA, Vice President for Advancement and Enrollment. “This is a clear indication that interest in theological education from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective hasn’t waned even during a pandemic. We’re grateful to be able to help students grow in their faith, understanding of Scripture, and leadership abilities — wherever they may be located.”

“We’re also very pleased with the continued growth of ethnic diversity in our graduate student body,” he added. “Bringing together students from varied cultural backgrounds enriches the educational experience for our entire learning community on many levels.”

The seminary’s total enrollment for 2021–22 is 145 students (152 in 2020). Of these, 127 are graduate students (128 in 2020) and 18 are participants in the nondegree Journey Missional Leadership Development Program (24 in 2020). These figures are from the close of registration on Sept. 13, 2021.

Graduate programs

Of the 127 students taking graduate-level courses, 116 are enrolled in degree or certificate programs, and 11 are guest students. Sixty-nine are men, and 58 are women.

The 2021–22 graduate student body represents 13 countries from four continents (Africa, Asia, North America and South America), with 64 students coming from the U.S., nine from Canada, and 54 from outside of the U.S. and Canada. Assistant Dean and Registrar Scott Janzen, MDiv, noted that this is the highest number of international students at AMBS on record in the past 31 years of readily available data.

Due to ongoing pandemic-related travel and student visa restrictions, 13 new international students are taking courses online, with the hope of coming to AMBS in person as soon as possible.

“Many of our incoming international students were not granted student visa appointments in time for the start of the academic year, so it is a huge benefit to have the technology to connect with these students online in the meantime,” reflected Janzen.

Janzen noted that AMBS’s accessibility from a distance continues to attract students. The number of graduate students enrolled in a distance course rose from 62 in 2020 to 92 in 2021. (Distance courses include online courses as well as blended courses — campus-based courses that students at a distance can join remotely.) He added that AMBS is also maintaining its commitment to in-person learning and offers a variety of campus courses for those who live on campus or are able to commute.

The seminary’s student body continues to represent a range of Christian traditions, with nearly 86 percent affiliated with Mennonite World Conference or related Anabaptist groups (including AMBS’s two sponsoring denominations, Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA) and around 14 percent affiliated with other Christian traditions.

Journey Missional Leadership Development Program

Of the 18 participants in Journey, an undergraduate-level certificate program of AMBS’s Church Leadership Center that develops leaders centered in Jesus Christ for ministries in local churches and communities, nine are from the U.S., one is from Canada, and eight are from Uganda or Southeast Asia (locations not shared for security reasons).

Six of the participants in the distance-friendly program are women, and 12 are men. The U.S. and Canadian participants reside in the states/provinces of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Ontario. Faith traditions represented include Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, the Church of Jesus Christ, Mennonite Church Uganda, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and the Reformed Church.

“It’s very exciting to have 10 different conference and denominational bodies from across the globe represented in the Journey program this year, with all the diversity these participants bring,” said Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, PhD, Dean of Lifelong Learning. “We’re energized to see the desire for Anabaptist leadership education from many different contexts and to join in God’s work in preparing our Journey participants for ministry.”