The Future Church Summit: A people … proclaiming a prophetic witness

The Future Church Summit will take place July 6-8, at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando. It will be a generative, open space for denomination-wide conversation — to dream together, reset priorities and engage one another in answering the question: How will we follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century? Leading up to the summit we invite you to reflect on our shared history, what being Anabaptist means for you and your hopes for the Future Church Summit.

Ken Burkholder has been pastor at Deep Run East Mennonite Church, Perkasie, Pennsylvania, since 2005. He is married to Karen (Frankenfield) Burkholder, and they have two young adult children, Alyssa and Justin. Ken enjoys Philadelphia sports, reading, running and eating at a variety of restaurants. He is a member of the design team for the Future Church Summit.

As I reflect on what nourishes me most about being an Anabaptist Christian, and what is most essential, a phrase that helps to capture it for me is, “A people … proclaiming a prophetic witness.”

First of all … people. As Anabaptist Christians, we hear the words “community” and “relationships” so often that they may lose their luster. But I am filled with gratitude as I think about the people, the numerous relationships with other Anabaptists, which have influenced my faith journey. For example, in the congregation where I was raised, Neffsville Mennonite in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I’m thankful for Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, mentors and others that were instrumental in helping to form and shape my Christian faith. I think about college and seminary professors at Eastern Mennonite University who I learned so much from — both inside and outside the classroom. I think about the role of Blooming Glen (Pennsylvania) Mennonite Church, which helped to discern God’s call for me to go to seminary in my 30s, as well as Ridgeway Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia, which was our family’s church home for three years during this time. I think about the valuable relationships that my family and I have developed at Deep Run East Mennonite Church, the congregation where I’ve been serving as pastor for 12 years, and also with those in the local community. I’m particularly grateful for the growing diversity of people in the Mennonite church. Our local congregation has been deeply blessed by newer persons who have come from a variety of life experiences, faith traditions or nominal faith background. As a primarily Anglo congregation, we’ve also been strengthened by building relationships with others across Franconia Mennonite Conference, with our conference’s increasing racial-ethnic diversity. It’s been a joy for Deep Run East to establish strong relationships with global Anabaptist Christians, most notably, in Honduras. When Mennonite World Conference was held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 2015, we had the opportunity for 20 of our Mennonite sisters and brothers from Honduras to worship and visit with us at Deep Run, which was such a rich, joyous experience!

With the challenges that we are currently experiencing as a denomination, and with decisions that are being made by some, regarding, “Should we stay or should we go?”, my hope and prayer is that we will not lose sight of the immense value of people, namely our relationships with one another as Anabaptist Christians — which span the local congregation, broader conference, wider denomination and global faith community.

Secondly, I’m profoundly grateful for our commitment, as Anabaptist Christians, to be a people … proclaiming a prophetic witness. As Anabaptist Christians, we affirm that Jesus is the center of our faith. I value our emphasis on the need for Christ’s transforming work — personally, relationally, in our communities and in the broader world. I value our emphasis on following Jesus daily in life. I value our emphasis on both evangelism and peace, which is rooted in Christ Jesus. As Anabaptist Christians, if we truly believe that Jesus is the hope of the world, how can we not share this good news with those around us? If Jesus is truly the center of our faith, how can we not proclaim a prophetic witness, in both word and deed? I’m grateful for the numerous examples of Mennonites living out Christ’s call to peacebuilding, evangelism, service and generosity. For example, as part of my work with the Future Church Summit Design Team, I’ve had to opportunity to meet and learn to know Hyun Hur, a Mennonite pastor in Southern California. What a blessing to hear of the ways that God is using him and his family in God’s kingdom work of reconciliation! Looking to the future — in our communities, where we encounter so many people facing despair, apathy or brokenness, I pray that we will freely share the hope and healing that Jesus offers. And in a world that is increasingly marked by the darkness of violence, injustice and division, I pray that the church will have the courage to be a prophetic witness to the light of Christ. Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full,” (John 10:10). This is good news for us to freely receive and to proclaim with boldness, marked by humility, to those around us!