172 pastors, other church leaders and lay learners came together at AMBS January 25-28 around the theme, "The Bible Says What? Discovering Scripture Anew in Jesus' Company." Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, AMBS Dean of Lifelong Learning, gave the opening address titled, “In the Right Doses.” Bryan Moyer Suderman, an itinerant Bible teacher from Stouffville, Ontario who is also widely known as an Anabaptist singer-songwriter, led sessions Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
Gingerich Longenecker highlighted widespread confusion in the church about what to do with the Bible, but implored listeners not to “put the Bible on the shelf.” She contrasted the counter-cultural, life-giving nature of the Biblical Story with popular dead-end narratives, and invited pastors to consider how they might "reclaim the biblical story in a way that expresses its non-coercive claim to truth.” She called attention to the potential of in-depth Bible study using scholarly tools “in the right doses for congregational contexts” to shed light on the Bible and to help bring people together around it.
Moyer Suderman focused on stories from the Gospel of Mark showing Jesus’ use of Old Testament scriptures in his dealings with a variety of people. Through word, song and group interaction, Moyer Suderman helped participants observe the discernment processes going on in various strands of Old Testament discussion, and showed how they emerge in Jesus’ use of scripture in the book of Mark. He offered a “mapping” process for looking at the Gospels, including asking, “Where are we? Who is talking to whom? Where do we see [Old Testament] scripture coming into play? What do we notice about how scripture is being used here? Are there patterns? What might this say to us?” As Pastors Week participants discovered these New Testament conversations about faithfulness, they were reminded that engagement with and discernment around scripture is the church’s ongoing task and responsibility.
Moyer Suderman’s original song, “Wrestling with the Scriptures,” became an informal theme song for the week, pointing to the continuing task of “wrestling with each other, wrestling to be heard, wrestling with the scriptures, wrestling with the Word.” Likewise, his song “I’m Glad You’re Here,” struck a chord as it called listeners to value the presence of others with whom they disagree, even in midst of scriptural debates.
Throughout the week worship leaders Malinda Berry and Rebecca Slough invited guests to “turn the text” by offering midrash-inspired reflections on the scripture passage for the day. These dramatic interpretations, original vocal and piano pieces and spoken reflections challenged participants to see the text through multiple perspectives.
Reflections from Pastors Week 2016 attendees
“It was a privilege to be a part of Pastors Week at AMBS. I wasn’t sure what to expect since this was my first time attending. What I experienced was worship that used all my senses; opportunity to relate to pastors, leaders, professors and students; and a prodding and a challenge to go deeper and further in my faith journey.” – Marisa Smucker, Church Relations, Mennonite Mission Network
“Pastor's week was a chance to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, debate scripture, sing, worship and pray together; what could be better?” – Doug Unrau (Master of Divinity, 2013), Lowe Farm Bergthaler Mennonite Church, Lowe Farm, Manitoba
“I loved the presentation of Jewel Gingerich Longenecker's research about pastors who are particularly effective at passing on a love of Scripture study as a community. It was inspiring to hear that all of us can likely improve in this area, if we focus on those strategic traits that Jewel found were common to her study participants. I was also inspired by Bryan Moyer Suderman's music and teaching of the book of Mark. This was one of the most valuable Pastor's Weeks that I have yet attended. As someone who didn't grow up Mennonite, didn't attend a Mennonite seminary, and who has only been a pastor for 7 years so far, it's taken a while to get to know the folks who gather at Pastor's Week -- but each year has gotten better, and I look forward to seeing colleagues from many places at these yearly gatherings.” – Charlotte Lehman, Reba Place Church, Evanston, Illinois