By Annette Brill Bergstresser
ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — How can church leaders and congregations respond to hate, intolerance and systemic racism in their communities in productive and transformative ways? What does the gospel of Jesus Christ call Christ-followers to do in situations like these?
Participants in Pastors and Leaders 2019 — an annual leadership conference formerly called Pastors Week — will explore the biblical and theological grounding of their call to get involved and will become equipped to help their congregations respond to incidences of intimidation. The event, on the theme “Loving Our Neighbors in Tense Times,” will run from 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 25, through 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28, on the campus of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana.
Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, AMBS dean of Lifelong Learning and a member of the planning committee, explained that the idea for the theme came about following Pastors and Leaders 2018, in which a workshop featured Maren Tyedmers Hange, one of the pastors at Charlottesville (Virginia) Mennonite Church, talking about what her congregation experienced as they sought to respond to the racially driven violence of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in the summer of 2017. Two planning committee members who attended the workshop suggested that the next Pastors and Leaders event focus on equipping churches to counter white supremacy and hate.
“As our planning committee discussed the possibility of pursuing this topic, it quickly became apparent that for everyone around the table — and we represent a broad range of congregations — this was something their congregation was thinking about,” she said.
“It was unfortunately evident that no matter where you live in North America — whether you are in a rural, suburban or urban setting; whether your church is racially diverse or homogeneous — you simply can't ignore the recent dramatic increase in polarized, hateful rhetoric and violence.”
“Our hope is that people will leave Pastors and Leaders 2019 with a clear awareness that white supremacy is a reality that all of us must engage; that they will gain the spiritual and biblical grounding needed to courageously lead in the face of hate; and that they will learn skills and tools to share back home for creatively responding to hate and fear in their communities and beyond,” she continued.
This year’s event, which is hosted by AMBS’s Church Leadership Center, will include worship, prayer, teaching sessions and workshops. The following guest teachers and preachers will speak:
- Andrew Draper, Ph.D., pastor of Urban Light Community Church in Muncie, Indiana, will share how his church takes seriously the call to love their neighbors — serving a diverse population and existing “to reconcile people to God and to each other by joining Jesus Christ in his reconciliation of all things.” Draper is also an occasional teacher at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.
- David Hooker, M.Div., J.D., Ph.D., associate professor of the practice of conflict transformation and peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs and a core faculty member of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, will lead participants through practical Christian responses to hateful rhetoric and activities in their communities.
- Maren Tyedmers Hange, M.Div., pastor of Charlottesville Mennonite Church, will preach, drawing on her community’s responses to white supremacy following violent clashes in 2017.
Participants will be able to choose from 11 workshops; sample titles include:
- The Movement Makes Us Human: Wisdom and Challenge from the Life of Dr. Vincent Harding;
- Sanctuary in the Streets: the Faith Community Showing Up for Our Neighbors;
- Embrace Enemy Love: a Playful Spiritual Practice;
- The Welcoming Prayer: Inviting God Into Our Tension;
- Healthy Masculinity: On Being a Man;
- Reading the Bible With Neighbors and Strangers: Encountering the “Other” With — and Within — Scripture.
Gingerich Longenecker noted that the topic of this year’s event is relevant not only for pastors, but also for other leaders in the church. Also, leaders from any (or no) denomination are welcome.
Registration fees for the event vary for individuals, married couples, part-time participants and students. Discounts are available for first-time participants; those who bring a friend who has never attended the annual event; and those who need financial assistance. Also, individuals, congregations, regional conferences and districts can become a member of the Church Leadership Center to receive additional benefits, including substantial discounts on events.
Participants who attend all plenary and workshop sessions may earn 1.2 Continuing Education Units (CEUs).
Learn more about meals, lodging, transportation and childcare. Register by Jan. 10 for the lowest rates; the final registration deadline is Feb. 11.
Leadership clinics are daylong workshops for pastors, active church leaders and lay learners. They will take place on Monday, Feb. 25, before Pastors and Leaders 2019 begins in the evening. Topics include:
- Documenting Suffering and Hope, with Janna Hunter-Bowman, Ph.D., assistant professor of peace studies and Christian social ethics, AMBS; and Cyneatha Millsaps, M.Div., executive director of Mennonite Women USA
- Giraffe Meets Jackal: An Introduction to Nonviolent Communication, with Malinda Berry, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology and ethics, AMBS
- Seeking Shalom: Faith-Based Community Organizing, with André Gingerich Stoner, M.A.T.S., neighborhood networker, South Bend, Indiana; Margie Mejia-Caraballo, community organizer, Rock Island, Illinois; and Jennifer Davis Sensenig, M.Div., pastor of Community Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
- Healthy Boundaries Training, with David B. Miller, D.Min., teaching associate of the AMBS Church Leadership Center; and Laurel Neufeld Weaver, M.S.W., LISW-S, Clinical Social Worker from Bluffton, Ohio
Participants can choose to register for a leadership clinic by itself or to combine it with Pastors and Leaders 2019 registration.
Cost: $65 USD before Jan. 10; $75 USD after. Group discounts are available. Learn more about leadership clinics.