By Ken Gingerich, member of Albuquerque Mennonite
Amy Zimbelman was shaped and formed by her experience as the daughter of evangelical parents in Colorado Springs, Colo., the cradle of modern American evangelical institutions like Focus on the Family, Navigators and Compassion International—and the home of several large military installations, including the United States Air Force Academy. Like other military-base towns, Colorado Springs has created unique challenges for peace-minded Mennonites who have had a presence there for about 100 years. Nevertheless, Amy recently found herself being installed as the Conference Minister for Mountain States Mennonite Conference (MSMC), which consists of 17 Anabaptist faith communities from rural towns like La Junta, and Glenwood Springs, Colo. and Carlsbad, N.M. to the more densely populated urban enclaves of Denver and Lakewood, Colo. and Albuquerque, N.M.
Amy didn’t encounter Mennonites while growing up in Colorado Springs. It wasn’t until she was spending a year in the Middle East in a Gordon College (Wenham, Mass.) international studies program that she met Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) volunteers in Lebanon. She was impressed that they didn’t seem to be preoccupied with “saving souls” but were simply serving people’s needs in the name of Christ. Something clicked. “Discovering ‘missionaries’ who cared about human need but weren’t hyper-focused on proselytizing non-believers was refreshing and intriguing to me. I had to learn more,” she said.
The following year Amy sought out the MCC representative at a college missions conference in Michigan and learned one didn’t have to be Mennonite to volunteer. She spent her first year out of college as a SALT volunteer in Zambia. After she returned to the U.S. she eventually sought out Mennonites again—this time with Mennonite Voluntary Service in Sioux Falls, S.D.—where she volunteered in a refugee resettlement program. She continued in the position with the refugee program following her MVS term and also became the Sioux Falls MVS Director.
It was during her work with the refugees that Amy met another volunteer, Matt Zimbelman, son of an evangelical pastor who hails from a small community in rural S.D. Amy and Matt found that they had similar backgrounds and interests. They married in 2010 and have been together ever since. After four years in Sioux Falls, Amy and Matt moved to North Carolina where Amy earned a Master of Divinity degree at Duke Divinity School in Durham. Duke regularly attracts a cohort of Mennonites and is surrounded by three Mennonite churches. “We worshipped with all of the churches and learned that each congregation had a unique character,” says Amy. “It’s a lot like the diversity I see in Mountain States.”
After seminary Matt and Amy decided they wanted to be near family so they moved back to Colorado. They ended up in the Springs and eventually found themselves visiting Mountain Community Mennonite Church in nearby Palmer Lake. When MCMC pastor Paul Johnson learned of her background and interest in pastoring, Amy was tapped to co-pastor the congregation on a part-time basis. She served as a bi-vocational minister, pastoring the church and working at the local refugee resettlement agency, and also gave birth to a son, Bennett. She was licensed and ordained by Mountain States conference during this time. Later Amy left MCMC to accept a full-time position in a refugee resettlement program in the Springs.
In 2018 Amy was asked to serve as a board member for Mountain States Mennonite Conference where it became clear that she had a good grasp of organizational structure and power dynamics in the church. She was an MSMC representative at a Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) meeting in Phoenix where she articulated a need for a more just parental leave policy for pastoral families.
In summer 2020, after giving birth to their second son, Owen, Amy received a call from conference leadership. “When I was tapped to consider applying for the Conference Minister position, I felt immediately like it could be a great fit and wondered why I hadn’t thought of it,” says Amy. “I’m so excited to do this work and I believe God’s Spirit is moving in surprising and amazing ways in our conference right now.”
MSMC moderator Ryan Koch says, “What impressed the search committee most is Amy’s unique bridge-building gifts, her profound love for the Mennonite church and particularly, Mountain States Mennonite conference, her bodily commitment to the work of peace and justice and most importantly her deep devotion to the way of Jesus. And in the first few months as Conference Minister we have already witnessed, on multiple occasions, Amy inspiring us and empowering us with her wisdom and love in ways which push us to pursue God’s dreams of justice and peace. We can’t wait to see what is in store for us in the coming months and years thanks to Amy’s leadership and vision.”
Amy joins a national group of lead Conference Ministers and is currently among the youngest conference leaders in MC USA. As a millennial and a “convinced” Anabaptist, Amy brings a level of awareness and commitment that should serve her conference well. “Mountain States Conference is an amazing example of what churches can be when they follow Jesus together,” she says. “We are singing, welcoming immigrants, preaching, feeding hungry folks, forging guns into garden tools for our gardens, and caring for each other even when we profoundly disagree. And we are finding that the good news of Jesus is really good news for folks on the margins, not just for those in the comfortable center.
“In other words, the Mennonite Church here [in MSMC] isn’t what you think of when you hear these negative stories about churches in the news. There are a bunch of movers and shakers doing amazing things and I want to double down on being a part of it all,” Amy says.
Full Installation Service:
(For Amy’s Reflection, advance to 8:17)
Amy’s Reflection with scripture reading by Marilyn Miller:
(For Amy’s Reflection, advance to 2:49)