By Karen Garrett and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
A General Secretary’s dinner at last year’s Annual Conference was the first in a series to engage educators in topics of importance to the church and society. The events have the overarching goal to work at the church’s relationship with the Brethren-related institutions of higher education: Bridgewater College in Virginia, Elizabethtown College and Juniata College in Pennsylvania, the University of La Verne in California, McPherson College in Kansas, Manchester University and Bethany Theological Seminary in Indiana.
At the 2015 Annual Conference, University of La Verne provost Jonathan Reed will speak about “Who Was Jesus? First Century Archaeology for 21st Century Theology” at the General Secretary’s Luncheon with Higher Education on Monday, July 13, at 12 noon. Tickets for the meal event in Tampa, Fla., are $25 and may be purchased online as part of Conference registration at www.brethren.org/ac .
2014 meal focused on global study of Mennonites
Conrad L. Kanagy, Elizabethtown College professor of Sociology, was the speaker for last year’s dinner, the first in the series. His presentation, “Tearing Down and Building Up: The Work of the Spirit and the Global Church,” reported on an ongoing study of Mennonite churches in the US, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
There are a growing number of Christians in the global South, he noted, in contrast to the churches in the US where membership is declining. Kanagy and other sociologists have been studying Anabaptist churches to look for patterns than shed light on these trends.
Statistics from the study lead to some interesting observations. The Anabaptist (Mennonite) churches in the global South have:
— a generous percentage of members who are of childbearing age, which helps with their growth,
— a high retention rate of young people, who are interested in missions,
— a high percentage of members who have been in the church five years or less, which means they are active at recruiting new members,
— a theology that includes a call to separation from the broader culture,
— leadership that is largely bi-vocational and voluntary.
In contrast the Anabaptist churches (Mennonite) in the US show evidence of being aging congregations, with most members well past childbearing age, those who have been members for many years, and most congregations hiring formally trained leadership. There also is evidence that churches in the US have assimilated into the surrounding culture to the point that they have in effect “disappeared” into that society.
Kanagy displayed graphs providing a clear visual image of the difference between the churches in the US and the churches in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Some of this data is included in the book “Winds of the Spirit,” of which Kanagy is one of the authors. However, the study is ongoing, with a full report expected to be ready for the Mennonite General Conference in 2015.
Questions during the discussion time that followed Kanagy’s presentation revealed one impact of the data, and an irony given the context: pastors in the global South focus on learning the Bible stories rather than receiving formal training in theology, in contrast to the missions of the colleges, universities, and seminary represented by those in attendance.
— Karen Garrett provided the report from the 2014 General Secretary’s Dinner, as a member of the news team for the 2014 Annual Conference.