Mennonite Church USA is building upon the work of the Future Church Summit at #MennoCon17 in Orlando. A dynamic group of writers has been called together to produce a concise description of MC USA’s shared values and guiding theological foundations. We’re calling this process Journey Forward. Over the next few weeks, the Menno Snapshots blog will be featuring interviews with the Journey Forward writing team and reference council, giving you a peek into the diverse life and faith experiences that are coming together in this moment in MC USA’s history.
Sarah Ann Bixler lives in Princeton, New Jersey and is a member of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Sarah is a Ph.D. student in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Tell us one interesting or fun fact about you — something we wouldn’t already know.
I enjoy camping and hiking. One of my favorite feats is hiking the Grand Canyon once every decade. I’ve done it in my teens, 20s and 30s, and I hope to keep the trend going.
Tell us about one of your spiritual heroes / heroines. How have they been influential in your faith journey?
I have recently discovered for myself the writings of Menno Simons, interestingly, in the course of my doctoral work at a Reformed seminary. I encountered these primary texts at just a point in my theological journey when I was searching for an interpretive anchor, and Simons’ writings have provided this and been a source of spiritual renewal. In reading his articulation of Anabaptist theology, I recognized my own understanding of the Christian faith and life. His view of regeneration affirms my conviction that there is something within each person that is good and belongs to God, which cannot be taken away. This is what the Holy Spirit regenerates into a new creation as we are formed anew in Christ. Simons also has a great deal of optimism for the church as a Spirit-led, faithful community that embodies God’s vision for the world, which resonates with my continued hope for the Mennonite church these several hundred years later. I also find it significant that Simons’ exchanges with Elizabeth Dirks provide an example of an early Anabaptist church father cultivating the ministry and leadership of a young woman in the church.
What is your favorite worship song or hymn? Why?
Both Isaac Watts’ lyrics and the folk tune of “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” speak to me in powerful ways. This hymn has lived within me for a long time; I have played it on the piano since my adolescence, and it was one of my grandmother’s favorites. When I have experienced times of intense grief and loss, the lyrics’ Psalm 23 allusions and the gentle, lilting melody communicate God’s presence and comfort to me. The song reminds me that in difficult circumstances, there is nothing I can do to earn this presence, which is a gift from the God who cherishes and cradles me like a mother.
What draws you to this work with Mennonite Church USA and Journey Forward?
It is truly hard for me to say no to requests to serve Mennonite Church USA. I came of age during the birth of the denomination, and it is a significant source of identity for me. I felt a sense of honor and responsibility when I received the invitation to join the Journey Forward writing team. I see this as a critical time for our church, and I believe God is calling us into a future of greater faithfulness to living in the way of Jesus during a time of rapid change, complex crises and rich opportunities in our world. Out of my deep love for this group of believers seeking God and for the promise of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, I am happy to do this practical theological work on behalf of Mennonite Church USA.
The Journey Forward identity document will reflect what we think is most important as Anabaptists, specifically as MC USA. When you think about your identity as Anabaptist-Mennonite, what value, belief or idea most excites you — what grounds you in your faith?
Discipleship lies at the heart of my understanding of the Christian faith and the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. This concept suggests that faith is active, embodied and oriented toward someone outside of ourselves. In committing myself to follow my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I find myself walking alongside others who share that commitment. Empowered by the Spirit, we live as a community of Jesus’ disciples on behalf of the world that Jesus came to redeem and transform, and we share in his ongoing work in the world.