By Berit Jany, Boulder Mennonite Church
From all corners of the world, “as children of the Reformation,” as Alfred Neufeld (chair of MWC Faith and Commission) stated, 200 Mennonites met in the city of Augsburg on February 12, 2017 to commemorate the quincentennial of the Reformation and the beginnings of the Anabaptist tradition. The conference was the first of a 10-year series of events called “Renewal 2027”. With the inaugural event in Augsburg and other commemorative events planned during the renewal decade, MWC seeks to provide an opportunity to reflect on the movements of renewal and reform that gave birth to the Protestant and Anabaptist traditions.
Reading Scripture then and now
Following Luther’s call for sola scriptura (scripture alone), the conference discussed questions of Anabaptist Bible reading in the past and the importance of scripture in today’s global Mennonite church. Historians Astrid von Schlachta and Hanspeter Jecker illustrated early Anabaptists’ examination of scriptural texts for the purpose of a practical piety. Following the historical excursion, John D. Roth, secretary of MWC Faith, invited all participants to engage in scripture reading through the lens of contemporary life. Through the joint reading and collaborative discernment of Acts 15:1-21 in discussion groups, God’s word became alive to bring new insights to the challenging contexts of the participants’ present time.
The conference took place in Haus Stankt Ulrich, a convention center built and managed by the Catholic Church. In this markedly Catholic environment with a saint statue outside and a crucifix on the interior wall of the convention hall, MWC commemorated the Protestant Reformation and its implications for the Anabaptist movement. In an ecumenical panel, the Roman Catholic Monsignor Augusto-Castro (Colombia) and the Lutheran Friederike Nuessel (Germany) shared their experience of participating in the trilateral dialogue between Catholics, Lutherans, and Mennonites. The trialogue and joint Scripture reading has enlivened the renewing power of the Spirit and a ministry of reconciliation.
As the Renewal 2027 conference took place in conjunction with the regularly scheduled MWC meeting, the event drew participants from member churches within the global Anabaptist family. Visitors and speakers from all continents came together in this notably German environment with Bavarian pretzels as snack food and small talk “auf Deutsch”. Representatives from the global Anabaptist-Mennonite community offered a vision for the renewal of the church in their settings. Tigist Tesfaye Gelagle, mentor of MWC YABs (Young AnaBaptists) Committee, voiced her concern about the future of the church. In her appeal to the global Mennonite community, she stressed that the renewal decade shall not only encourage dialogue with different denominations but equally engage in dialogue with the youth.
Such dialogue was started in the panel “Youth voices from the global church” in which YABs committee speakers shared their interpretations of the Great Commission (Matt. 28). These young presenters highlighted personal commitments to learn, go, and share as disciples of Christ. “We need a culture that emphasizes discipleship as a responsibility for every believer of Christ,” said Ebenezer Mondez (Philippines).
Left photo: Singing from the Assembly 16 songbook
Right photo: Ebenezer Mondez and fellow YAB committee members during a conference break
(Photos by Harry Unger used with permission)