A personal reflection on the Journey Weekend Learning Event on the West Coast of the United States
by Gordon Smith, Pastor, Mennonite Community Church, Fresno, CA
For the first time, AMBS’s Church Leadership Center hosted a Journey program Weekend Learning Event on the West Coast of the United States. (These Journey Missional Leadership Development Program events have traditionally been held at AMBS or in the area.) Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference hosted the group Sept. 13–16 as three current Journey participants and their mentor continued their involvement with the program.
The group was also joined by prospective participants and local conference leaders, including Clare Ann Ruth-Heffelbower, Conference Minister of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference and Gordon Smith, credentialing committee member for PSMC, who wrote the following personal reflection:
I felt like I was back in seminary, and loving it! Grounded in the rigorous study of the Bible, challenged to think in new ways about the church and the mission of God, in dialogue with professors and fellow students over key issues of faith and life, strengthened by God’s guiding presence among us. What’s not to love?
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The weekend of Sept. 13-15, I was in southern California for a series of meetings with PSMC’s Pastoral Leadership Committee (PLC) on which I serve, hosted by Pasadena Mennonite Church.
That same weekend, PLC members were invited to participate in an educational event sponsored by the Journey Missional Leadership Development Program from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. The program is designed for pastors throughout Mennonite Church USA and Canada who don’t have formal Anabaptist theological training and may not be able to attend seminary full-time to complete their studies. Through a series of online courses and occasional in-person gatherings led by seminary professors and staff, Journey is helping pastors to fulfill credentialing requirements set by our conference.
Currently, three PSMC pastors are participating in Journey: Raymond (Andrew) Arnold and Claude Flowers, both of Family Mennonite Church in Los Angeles, and Hilarion (Chidi) Ihezuoh of Los Angeles Faith Chapel. Anthonia Onye, PSMC regional minister for southern California, serves as a mentor for all three participants.
As I said at the outset, it was like being back in seminary, because it was!—seminary, that is—brought to southern California by Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, Dean of Lifelong Learning, who leads the AMBS Church Leadership Center; and David Miller, AMBS Teaching Associate at the Church Leadership Center. Two special highlights for me were David’s teaching on biblical history and the mission of God, and a video session led by Safwat Marzouk, Associate Professor of Old Testament, on biblical interpretation, where we learned about Shiphrah and Puah, characters in the Bible not many of us could recall having heard about before. They appear in Exodus, chapter 1 as Hebrew midwives who took bold actions with huge consequences. But here’s the interesting thing. Shiphrah and Puah disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders, refusing to kill newborn baby boys. As the story is told, that’s because they “feared God” more than Pharaoh. By their non-violent actions, they did the right thing. They made a difference for good.
For me, one of the best parts of the weekend was the interaction in small clusters of Journey students, PLC members and other guests, as we explored the story of Shiphrah and Puah together, asking questions, seeking new insights and challenges for interpretation and possible applications for our own lives and the world around us. In our sharing with one another, we were again on holy ground as God met us there.
Thank God for Journey! Thank God for the Full Circle Project whose financial contributions helped bring Journey to southern California! Thank God for our conference! Thank God for AMBS! Thank God for pastors and other leaders in PSMC who are seeking first the kingdom of God!
The West Coast Weekend Learning Event for Journey: A Missional Leadership Development Program included a public session that brought together program participants, their mentors, and interested visitors at Pasadena (California) Mennonite Church.te Wentland. Photo: Kate Wentland