By Annette Brill Bergstresser
ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — A long-time church leader, pastor, missionary, church planter, author and educator has been named the recipient of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition for 2018.
Palmer Becker of Kitchener, Ontario, who earned a Master of Religious Education from Mennonite Biblical Seminary (MBS — now AMBS) in 1965, will receive the award on April 29 in his home congregation, Waterloo (Ontario) North Mennonite Church. Becker will also be the featured speaker at AMBS’s May 6 commencement service.
“Much of Palmer’s recent work has been in interpreting Anabaptism, both in North America and around the world,” said Janeen Bertsche Johnson, alumni director and campus pastor. “This was a key contribution that led us to select him.”
Becker is the author of 15 books, including the widely used booklet, Missio Dei No. 18: “What is an Anabaptist Christian?” (now available in 18 languages), and an expansion of that resource called Anabaptist Essentials: Ten Signs of a Unique Christian Faith (Herald, 2017). Since 2007, he has taught short courses on the subject of Anabaptist identity in more than 15 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America with Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness.
Becker is currently introducing a 16-session discipleship and renewal resource, Begin Anew, to regional conferences and local congregations. Published jointly as a free online resource by Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, Begin Anew seeks to help people establish solid beliefs, examine a relational church, adopt spiritual practices and choose a ministry in the church and a mission in the world.
“It’s an honor to be recognized for living out core values that were, in a major way, instilled in me at MBS,” Becker reflected. “I hope this recognition will be a witness to prospective church workers who are looking for a training program that has a passion for biblical studies, Anabaptist theology and peacemaking.”
Becker grew up near Freeman, South Dakota, and attended Freeman Junior College (FJC), where he met Ardys Preheim. They married in 1958 and have four grown children. Becker also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Goshen (Indiana) College; did graduate studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia; and earned a Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
Becker shared that while attending FJC, he was also beginning his own hog-breeding operation. As part of Christian Youth Volunteers at FJC, he was invited to preach at a small country church.
“After the service, my favorite uncle placed his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and asked, ‘When are you going to stop feeding pigs and start feeding people? I believe you have a call to be a pastor,’” he recalled. “I consulted with Ardys’ pastor, J. Herbert Fretz, who advised me concerning a college major and enrollment in seminary.”
At Goshen College, Becker was a member of a pre-seminary club hosted by H. S. Bender, who introduced him to Anabaptist thinking and encouraged him to attend MBS. During a term of alternative service in Taiwan, where he served as director of a mobile medical team and with China Sunday School Association (1958–1963), he developed an interest in Christian education and drama, which brought him to MBS to pursue a combination of Christian education and pastoral ministry.
“The biblical studies at MBS prepared me for the mystery and joy of meeting and obeying God,” he said. He credited William Klassen, Clarence Bauman, Paul Miller, Leland Harder and Erland Waltner in particular as professors who influenced him.
“They also served as models as I went on to mentor and teach prospective pastors in the Hesston (Kansas) Pastoral Ministries Training Program,” Becker commented.
“The sense of community that existed on campus was heart-warming, affirming and memorable for both me and my family,” Becker said. “It shaped my lifelong interest in community as being central to who we are.”
Following his graduation from seminary, Becker served as a pastor in Oklahoma and then as executive secretary of the Commission on Home Ministries of the General Conference Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas (1969–78). He also held pastorates in British Columbia, Minnesota, Oregon and Georgia, and served as chaplain at Menno Simons Centre and the University of British Columbia (1988–91) and as director of the Hesston (Kansas) College Pastoral Ministries Program (1999–2006). In conjunction with his pastorates, he worked with Southern Cheyenne, Chinese, Laotian and Hispanic congregations and fellowship groups.
While preparing to give the keynote address at a Hesston College conference on “Discipling New Believers from an Anabaptist Perspective” in 2002, Becker said three core statements came to him: “Jesus is the center of our faith; community is the center of our life; and reconciliation is the center of our work.”
“No doubt these had been rooted in my study of The Anabaptist Vision by H. S. Bender,” he added.
Becker’s address came to be published in Mennonite Mission Network’s Missio Dei Series as “What is an Anabaptist Christian?”
“To make it easier for lay and international readers, I asked an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher to mark all words with which a Grade Nine student would have difficulty. As a result, I found alternatives for 70 words,” he recalled.
Becker noted that Stuart Murray’s book The Naked Anabaptist was published around the same time, “helping Mennonites recognize they have something valuable to share.”
“We are in something of an identity and faith crisis concerning who we are as Mennonites,” he reflected. “Old methods and expressions aren’t working anymore, and people are leaving the church — especially young people — and yet there is a search for community and desire for significant ministry. Many are finding the core values found in ‘What is an Anabaptist Christian?’ and Anabaptist Essentials to be of substantial help in declaring their identity and faith.”
Anabaptist Essentials is available in English, French and Spanish — with plans for translation into several other languages. Mennonite World Conference will give two copies to each constituent conference at its General Council Sessions in Kenya in April.